just write something, anything

Now I’m getting linked to from sibling blogs, somebody might read this stuff.  So I should make an effort to blog regularly.

Trouble is, I haven’t got the hang of the style.  Everything I’ve done seems so turgid.  I should try to produce something a bit more chatty.  Like journos who are contracted to deliver articles at regular intervals and, being invariably devoid of inspiration, end up recounting some faux-amusing  episode in their own utterly ordinary lives.

Not that I claim a wide knowledge of the current media, my weekly experience being limited to The Guardian (Saturday) and Viz monthly.  And I’m already on record with my jaundiced views on the regular, thoughtless, lazy use of the same tired old phrases.

It can be done properly but it must be very difficult.  Bernard Levin (may he fulminate in peace), somehow managed to create, week after week, beautifully written articles that were topical and relevant.  He himself remarked on the strain of producing to a regular deadline.  He was too true to his craft to fill in the gaps with bilge; he took a lengthy sabbatical when his inspiration dried up.  And he had a healthy disregard for his own undoubted brilliance; he did allow publication of a couple of anthologies but many of his Saturday’s Times articles went no further than Monday’s fish-and-chip wrapping.

And then we come to the other end of the spectrum.  People who achieved top marks at school for “What I did over the summer holidays” and decided to stick to what they were good at.  I mean, how much does Tim Dowling (Guardian Weekend Magazine) actually get paid?  This week the title is ‘It’s our anniversary dinner. But what will we talk about?’  Feel free to choose your own answer.  I can’t print mine here but rest assured that Tim would find it certainly unhelpful, and probably physically impossible.

Journalists writing about themselves.  Or each other.  Journalism existing by, in, and exclusively for, itself.  As far as it’s possible to get from the nobility of the Fourth Estate, the determination to speak out fearlessly, to challenge, to inform, to educate.  Just self-serving, unimportant waffle, peddled to us in the guise of something worthwhile and relevant.

So, here we go, my new-style blog.  I’ll call it “I’m going to Tesco.  But what should I buy?”.

On the deli counter I saw some cheese that is “produced from proud Yorkshire cows”.  I thought, in Lancashire?  That’s pride bordering on arrogance.  Cue images of Friesians sporting white rosettes, haughtily strutting around the Yorkshire dales.  Then I saw Tesco own-brand “fresh bleach”, fresh from the chemical vat, I supposed.  Moving on, I noticed “free range eggs”, now, that’s impressive – I’ve seen hens ranging freely, but eggs?  Next aisle there was “Chinese chicken”  I thought, is there anything we don’t import nowadays?  Just then I caught my ankle on the trolley and sustained a nasty gash.  I hobbled to the healthcare aisle.  I hesitated at the Germolene.  A security guard had just passed by the end of the aisle and was now out of sight.  Should I chance it?  What would I say?  Surely they’d understand!

Just another 200 words to go – how am I doing?  No, listen, my life really is as interesting as Tim’s.  You must want to know about it.  And this is free, the Guardian costs £2.70, sucker.

 

two wrongs don’t make a right

The story of the Charlie Hebdo shootings is one of vicious cruelty inflicted on the innocent and defenceless, yet it’s also a reflection of the world we live in, of cultural fault-lines that may at any time give way to seismic events of the type we saw last week.  Our goal must be to resolve these tensions and move back from the extremities.  So, my question is this: is this goal best served by publishing a drawing of The Prophet (peace be upon Him) naked, on all fours, genitals bared ?

I’ve no religious axe to grind here.  I think that religion is probably just a passing phase on humanity’s path from outright barbarism to some kind of true enlightenment (hopefully).  So maybe I’m allowed to ask, to whisper amid the roar of righteous indignation, where’s the empathy with our fellow citizens, our muslim friends?

Satirical journalism, and journalism in general, is a noble activity with a noble history.  But that doesn’t ennoble everything the press puts out.  There are many shameful examples of misery being heaped on innocent citizens for no benefit, other than to the circulations of the publications concerned or the satisfaction of their salacious readers.

Likewise, freedom of speech is a noble concept.  But, like all freedoms, it must be exercised responsibly and with awareness of the likely consequences.  That’s why it’s limited by the same laws that defend it: defamation, libel, slander, incitement to racial hatred, these are all legal curbs on our absolute freedom of speech.

There is an argument put about that if we don’t exercise our freedoms we may lose them.  That may be true in some situations but certainly not all.  Not so long ago, homosexuality was illegal, as was attempted suicide.  I doubt whether the freedoms achieved through recent legislation would be threatened if I, or anybody else, or, indeed, everybody else, were to refrain from practising homosexuality or committing suicide.

Here, writing before the shootings, is Jean-François Bouthors in the regional daily Ouest France: “claiming to defend the freedom of expression by in turn engaging in a game of contempt, sarcasm and stigmatisation is very wrong“.  Prior to the killings, opinion in France had been divided.  There is a Gallic tradition of lampooning established institutions, but many, including senior politicians, had been urging moderation for some time, agreeing with Le Figaro that publishing such cartoons is “as easy as it is irresponsible“.

So was the publication of the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo justified?  What was the objective and was it achieved?  There’s no doubt that many of our enlightened attitudes owe their existence in part to courageous journalism over the centuries, to the readiness to speak out and point the critical finger at entrenched interests.

But there’s a fine line that it’s best not to cross.  Generally, that line is defined within the law.  As a matter of fact, that is the line that the editors of Charlie Hebdo have generally followed.  They were, in fact, taken to court by a group of muslim organisations and acquitted.  During the case, the magazine received support in the court from key figures, including  François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Let’s pause here to consider how the support of key establishment figures, followed by the acquittal, would have amplified the sense of insult and isolation already felt by those who brought the case.  Almost as if the traditional dynamic had been reversed, that it was the magazine that was part of the establishment and that the satirists were those with the entrenched interests.

Besides, the law itself is a blunt tool, an umbrella that places limits on how badly people may misbehave, but cannot possibly decide, in every situation, the precise point at which our actions become unacceptable.  That’s left up to individual citizens to decide.

Imagine, if you will, the Muslim community in this country, or in France, massed together and facing us, the non-muslims, across a chasm of misunderstanding.  Then picture, in your mind’s eye, the front ranks on either side, the hot-heads, the bigots, the downright criminally insane.  Further back on either side stand the silent, decent majority.

Now consider what will happen if some nasty person in our front rank starts chucking stones.  Never mind the motives for doing so.  They know, we all know, that they will cause offence and pain.  They know, we all know, that they will cause offence and pain.

What happens next?  Let me tell you.  The front rank on the muslim side are already offended.  They are career offendees.  Our culture, our very existence, offends them.  They are, as it were, fundamentally fucked up.  The occasional stone isn’t going to change their attitude one way or the other.

No, those stones sail right past the loonies and land squarely amongst the majority of decent, non-radical, law-abiding muslims.  Many, as they get on quietly with their sober, serious lives, must look on much of our inane, in-your-face culture with bewilderment.  Their leaders are, for the most part, wise and tolerant in their utterances.  They are, of course, aware that the colonial powers, France, Britain and the US, have carved up their world and crapped on it.  They may not be mad keen on booze, big brother or bullfighting.  But they’re (usually) not shouting about any of this.

These are the very people on whom the future peace of the world depends.  That’s not hyperbole, it’s fact.  Peace is impossible until we get on terms with the majority of muslims and isolate the nutters.

If we are distressed at recent events, spare a thought for the majority of decent muslims.  On top of the sadness at the senseless loss of life, which we all feel, they have the anguish of it being perpetrated, at least at some level, and in the eyes of many, by people of their own kind.  And underlying all this is the tension between their natural desire to be kind and tolerant and the hurtful, gratuitous barbs aimed at that which they hold most sacred.

Of all the nobler human qualities, the one that marks us off from all the other animals, and is, perhaps, the finest of all, is the capacity for empathy, that ability to see the other person’s point of view.  It is, in the long run, our only hope for the future.

The Charlie Hebdo killings are horrible beyond words.  It’s just possible, please God, The Prophet (peace be upon Him), and anybody else who can help, that they will turn out to have been the lowest point in our path towards mutual tolerance.  But this hasn’t been a parable about good and evil.  It’s been about criminality and a society that needs a long, hard, self-critical look at itself.  This tidal wave of righteous indignation shouldn’t be too righteous.

The handover has already begun

I like those long train journeys to and from some pleasant event,  a family get-together; a concert; a visit to the theatre. You just whizz along, no effort required, letting the time drift by reading, snacking, watching the countryside fly by and maybe chatting to companions or exchanging pleasantries with other passengers.  It all has a rather reassuring feeling of Englishness about it.

Not so on my journey a while ago.  There was a young couple across the aisle from me a little way down the carriage. He was holding a baby, I suppose around six months old, in one arm. With his other, free hand he was busy on his smartphone. She was busy, two-handed, on her own smartphone. After about twenty minutes, he passed the baby over to her. He began two-handed on his smartphone and she commenced single-handed on hers. For the remainder of their journey they swapped the baby back and forth as, I assume, the holding arm got tired. At no time did I see any direct interaction between either parent and the baby.

Come to think of it, there wasn’t any interaction between the two adults either, but that wasn’t what perplexed me.  In fact, it’s quite common to see adults who are so engrossed in their hand-held technology as to be effectively oblivious to their companions.

But a baby, that’s another thing.  It’s unarguably the case that the child will come to see themselves as less important, less worthy of their parents’ attention, than those lumps of hi-tech hardware.

I reflected miserably on this for a while.  I’m determined to avoid that habit of the elderly to become outspokenly alienated from all things new.  But even so, surely, this just wasn’t right.  Not right for the child, that seemed clear.  But also, not right for the parents, missing out on what could have been an enriching engagement with their very own flesh-and-blood.

And then it hit me.  That scenario on the train is a template for things to come.  The child is effectively preparing for life in the future.  Its own life, in adulthood, when human beings are no longer in charge.

Stephen Hawking is just the latest in a long line of great thinkers who predict the rise, and eventual supremacy, of non-human organisms.  Most top minds think that the progress of machines will accelerate and “within decades” they will have overtaken humans in most, if not all, activities.  If that child on the train is feeling inferior to machines then it’s just a reflection of how the world will develop as he or she grows into adulthood.

Prof Hawking thinks that the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race”.  He “worries deeply about artificial intelligence and machines that can outsmart humanity”.  But what, specifically, is he worried about ?

Fundamental to all these predictions of doom is the assumption that human beings are, and have to remain, in charge.  We are, as it were, top dogs.  Actual dogs, on the other hand, just get along with their lives alongside, and generally subservient to, us.  What’s so terrible about that ?

As among the human population, there are, within the so-called lower life-forms, relatively advantaged and dis-advantaged individuals.  Many of the disadvantages of being a non-human inhabitant of this planet derive from the cruel, supremacist behaviour of humans.  More to the point: many humans, ostensibly the highest life-form, are dis-empowered and oppressed by other humans.

We humans are a big-headed lot.  We think we’re clever yet we blunder in and out of moronic, tribal conflicts.  We sleep-walk into political, social and economic catastrophes.  We kid ourselves that we’re in control of our environment and all the time we’re trashing it.  We imagine that we’re masters of our destiny and continually succumb to unforeseen natural disasters.  Isn’t it about time that we just made way for something a bit smarter ?

Let’s dispense with a couple of red herrings.  No, it’s not relevant that we ourselves are building the machines.  The primates don’t have any natural rights over us, their descendants, who they spawned.  We ourselves don’t have children in order that they should serve us.  And no, it doesn’t matter that we are carbon-based and that the new organisms aren’t.  We are talking about form and function here, not the materials used in construction.

We have absolutely no reason to think that whoever is in charge next will be any more pig-headed, selfish and cruel than we have been.  In fact, once relieved of the responsibilities of power, we might ourselves take more delight in the pursuit of those activities that we’re quite good at.  Endearing human qualities that are all too often suppressed by our determination to stay in charge of everything.  Art, music, science, literature, humour, love.

The human race is just a tiny step on the road from who-knows-where to who-knows-where.  Billions of years either side of us.  It’s been a blast.  It’s a thrilling time to be alive right now.  Astonishing things are happening.  There have always been wonderful, inspirational people around.  In spite of our shortcomings, we’ve achieved a lot.

But all things must pass.  Let’s just get over ourselves.  Change is constant and inevitable.  It would be better to embrace it gracefully.

 

 

 

spare cat

Spare cat turned up one cold January day.  He hung around outside the conservatory door and peered in nervously.  He looked pretty miserable, his nose was running and he was very thin.  Maureen started leaving bits of food outside the door.  Little by little, his confidence grew and, when we left the door ajar, he would slip in and huddle in the corner of the conservatory.  It wasn’t warm in there but not quite as cold as outside.  She bought him one of those igloo things and he started sleeping in it at night.  Eventually he started coming into the house but it took many weeks before he would let us approach him.

At that time we already had two cats.  We’ve always preferred to have more than one.  So they have company.  And, since one of them was old and on its last legs, we decided we needed a spare cat.  That’s how he got his name.  It seemed a bit odd at first but after a while it felt perfectly natural.

The vet reckoned he was about six years old but, having spent quite some time roughing it, he was in poor physical shape.  He had breathing problems, arthritis, and was very under-weight.  And he wasn’t exactly a prime example of cathood to start with.  He had a long, fat, barrel-shaped body but his legs were completely out of proportion, very short and thin.  Maybe he’d been the runt, or the least attractive, of a litter, and that was why he’d ended up homeless.

Spare’s problems weren’t just physical.  Unlike most cats, he fawned and craved affection all the time, both from us and the other cats.  He never showed any independence, as if he had very low self-esteem and was terrified of rejection.  He just wanted to be loved, that was the limit of his ambition.  On top of this, he appeared to be very depressed, often just sitting motionless in a corner, sometimes for days on end.  We tried those things you plug in to the wall socket that waft out cat-happy molecules into the air, but they didn’t seem to help.

Over the next few months his physical condition gradually improved.  He put on weight, the wheezing stopped, and he seemed to be moving around without discomfort.  But still the introversion remained.  Even when he was amongst the rest of us he seemed distant and preoccupied.  We would often speculate about his state of mind, what was going on with him.  It was as if he was weighed down with issues of deep significance, tormented by unfathomable questions.  Perhaps about the very meaning of life itself, or great philosophical dilemmas that have baffled great minds over the centuries.

For about three years, Spare remained in deep contemplation until one day, quite out of the blue, he lightened up.  His demeanour became, overnight, that of any normal cat.  Suddenly he was sociable and outgoing, playful, demanding, independent, and all the qualities that you’d expect in your average domestic moggy.

Sitting in the study with my son late one night, the conversation once again turned to what was going on with Spare.  The inescapable conclusion was that he had made a breakthrough.  Whatever great issues he had been wrestling with we could only guess.  Perhaps even that Theory of Everything that has eluded all the great minds of our time.  All we could be sure about was that, whatever the problem was, Spare had cracked it.  How thrilling it was for us to realize that there, sitting purring beside us on the sofa, was the possibility of some astonishing intellectual revelation.  And how tantalizing to know that all we had to do was upload the information from Spare’s brain.  Surely the potential benefit to mankind would more than repay whatever efforts that would be required to achieve this.

There was only one thing for it.  An email explaining the whole situation was immediately despatched to Professor Stephen Hawking.  The following day a reply was received, not from the Professor himself, but from one of his co-workers.  We were informed that Prof Hawking was grateful to receive comments and suggestions on his work but was too busy to attend to every communication personally.  Nevertheless, all enquiries would be carefully considered and dealt with appropriately.

We had every confidence that further communication would swiftly follow but to date, six years on, none has been received.  Granted that the Prof can only write one word a minute but there is such a thing as common courtesy.  As usual, it’s one rule for Nobel-Prize-winning astrophysicists and another rule for the rest of us.  Besides, our chance has come and gone.  Spare passed away a couple of years ago.  Now we’ll never know.

He’d had a miserable time of it for much of his life, but his final few years were happy and content.  He was a lovely cat, gentle and affectionate.  He deserved that time of comfort and security.  I miss him a lot.  This is my mad tribute to Spare.

 

what grows up must grow down

Some years back my wife’s mum, Kath, started showing early signs of dementia and we decided to have her come and live with us because we didn’t like the idea of her going into a home.  There were some good moments but mostly it was hell.  Hopefully she took some comfort from being with people who loved her.

Some plants, nearing the end of their life, will flower.  They know that they’re going to die and they’re just putting all their remaining strength into keeping their line going.  As far as I can tell there’s no sadness or distress involved, they’re just getting on and dealing with the situation, doing what needs to be done.

Our whole life is a preparation for what’s coming up next.  Or rather, our best guess at what’s coming up next.  My best guess is that I’ll become less and less capable of doing things that I’m used to doing.  So I should prepare for that.  There’s no useful role for wishful thinking on this.  It’s going to happen.  Of course I’ll do what I can to mitigate things.  I can stay active, physically and mentally.  I can pay attention to my health and lifestyle.   I can plan my physical environment.  I can downsize the house.  I can try to have enough money saved up to pay others to do things I’m used to doing myself.

But Kath had all her physical needs taken care of.  She was warm, well-fed, dressed, washed and generally well looked after.  She was with people who loved and understood her.  Yet she was in distress most of the time.  I’ll never be dismissive of how genuine that emotional pain was, or the misery suffered by people with mental illness.  But HERE’S THE THING: how much of that distress might be avoided by preparation for the inevitable?  All her long life, Kath had been fiercely independent and self-sufficient.  She only survived because of her iron will and determination.  How much did this legacy impact on her mental and emotional state as she deteriorated towards incapacity and dependence on others?

Most of us, when we’re young, learn to control our emotions in order to function properly as adults.  I don’t like trailing around Tesco’s for the weekly shopping.  I grit my teeth, get round and get out.  What I don’t do (at least, not to date), is suddenly start writhing around on the floor kicking and screaming.  Those screaming, out-of-control kids at the supermarket seem to me to be every bit as distressed as Kath was when she couldn’t dress herself or remember where her handbag was.

Yet somehow the child can, in time, adapt to the reality of their situation.   Loving parental guidance may help, but the fact is most kids pretty much figure it out on their own.  We say they grow out of it. They learn that there are many things around them that they have no control over.  They deal with this by adapting the one thing they can have control over, namely, themselves.  They come to realise that ranting and raving doesn’t help, it just makes them miserable.

Then comes adulthood.  As an adult I’ve got a bit more control over the things around me.  But I can easily forget that, at any time, reality could take an unexpected turn and I’d lose that power and control.  So, approaching my declining years, I have this illusion of power and control.  And a large helping of personal pride.   Plus quite a lot of self-consciousness.  Add an expectation of comfort and privacy.  And finally, a pile of narrow-mindedness and intolerance.  That’s the legacy I bring to now, to the point at which I’m going to become increasingly incapable and dependent on others.

I’ve learnt that we can’t often do very much about the world around us, and never with any certainty.  This impotence also applies to our physical bodies, our health and longevity.  But inside our minds, that’s our own thing, that’s where we can have some real control, where there’s real scope for change.

There are some serious adjustments to be made if I want any kind of contentment in the future.  I’m starting now.  I’m not on my own.  Carl Jung had a handle on all this, talking about the “afternoon of life”.  Rather him than Dylan Thomas raging against the dying of the light.

It’s a big ask.  But I’ve already sort of done it before, when I was growing up.  Now I want to grow down.

Italian military heroes

Over the last twelve months the Italian Navy has picked up 140,000 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.  The search-and-rescue is being replaced by an EU coastal patrol that only intercepts boats that are approaching land.  The others, out on the open sea, are being left to sink or swim.  Story here.

It’ll save £4m a month and thousands more will drown.  Living, breathing, thinking, feeling human beings like me.  Like my migrant father, his was also a hazardous journey and many of his family and friends died.  That was in 1938 and he went on to serve our country, as an army officer, as a dedicated doctor, as a loving husband and father.

Most people who come here don’t take our houses, jobs, school places, hospital beds.  They build our houses;  they do the jobs that we can’t or won’t do;  they teach us in our schools;  we use the hospital beds and they care for us.

And please don’t give me the “we’ve only got so much room” crap.  There are twice as many people on this island now than when my dad arrived.  Yet the average Brit today has better healthcare, more to eat, better education, better housing, more opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors, and generally has an incomparably better quality of life.  That’s got as much to do with people like my dad as to those who were here to start with.  Arguably more.  Look at the US, it’s a nation of immigrants and it’s the richest, most dynamic place on the planet.

In charge of the present Italian naval operation is Vice Admiral Filippo Foffi, a straight-up-and-down career naval officer.  He’s not the most obvious candidate for Bleeding-Heart Liberal-of the-Month.  But he has more basic humanity in his bushy, nautical eyebrows than all those remote politicians and bureaucrats possess in their entire bodies.  The ones who are sacrificing thousands of lives just to save less in a month than the EU spends on its military every five minutes.

Here’s what Vice Admiral Foffi has to say:  “We have the duty in these cases when we are at sea to intervene to save human life. If we are not at sea then we can’t see what happens, we can close our eyes, turn off the lights and in that way, there’s no need to “turn back” the boats because they will die”

Then there’s Sergeant Major Francesco Cuonzo of the Italian Marines: “When my friends and family ask me, Why are these people coming to Italy? I respond, our ancestors also escaped when there was war. There went looking for their fortunes in America, Australia, Switzerland and other places. Where there is no war it gives you hope of a better future.”

These people want to carry on their life-saving work.  They’re not saints.  They’re just decent people.  Unlike the decision makers far away, they’re capable of normal human emotion.  They don’t judge their less-fortunate fellows, they empathise with them, they understand their aspirations and fears, they want to help.

We’re often frustrated to see large-scale human tragedy around the world and want the richer countries to do more to help.  But this is human tragedy that we are creating, in our own back yard.  And large-scale it definitely is.  Check out the details at the migrantsatsea blog.

In case you’re wondering what our own government is doing about it, here’s our minister at the Foreign Office, Baroness Anelay:  “We do not support planned search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.  We believe that they create an unintended ‘pull factor’, encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing...”.  Heartless, weasel words.  Most motorway accidents are caused by driver error.  The noble lady might just as well be planning removal of the ambulance service because it might encourage people to drive recklessly.  Besides, anyone desperate enough to brave the high seas in a tiny, over-crowded boat isn’t likely to be influenced by the possible presence of a rescue ship somewhere out there, beyond the horizon.

It’s all shameful beyond words.  But let’s hear it for Foffi and Cuonzo.  We know the jokes about Italian military heroes.  These guys may not be very good at killing people but they’re sure as hell not bad at saving them.  And they have the bravery, the moral courage, to speak up for what they know is right.   They might not be in line for many war decorations but they’ve definitely earned the Heresthething Common Decency Medal.  While there are people like these around there’s still some hope.

foffi cuonzo

 

 

 

a bit of quality in the final third

Maybe you’ve come across a game called bullshit bingo.  It uses standard bingo rules but instead of numbers on your card you have to cross off any bullshit words or phrases that you hear at your lecture or meeting.  Mindless crap like “out of the box” or “proactive” or “keep it real”.  As in normal bingo, the winner is the first one to mark off everything on their card.  There must be many a speaker who’s been bewildered to see one of the audience jump up and punch the air for no apparent reason.

You can get cards here.  I imagine that when these terms were first used they seemed creative and meaningful. There’s nothing wrong with them in themselves.  It’s just the lazy, thoughtless way they get dribbled out, mindlessly, ad nauseam.

I don’t know enough about other languages to make my view entirely scientific, but I know that as a native English speaker I’m blessed with a unique inheritance.   Our language is a wonder of human achievement.  And it just goes on getting richer, fed by the global community, by so many cultures, in so many different contexts.

For every word or phrase available to a French-speaking person we will probably have three or four ways of expressing the same idea in English.  This isn’t just because our island has had successive invasions of language going back for thousands of years.  It’s because we’ve embraced those influxes.  Then we’ve exported them to the rest of the world and welcomed back all the linguistic creativity that those other cultures have to offer. Never more so than with the US, that mighty powerhouse of innovation.  The results haven’t always been pretty.  But by heaven they’ve been refreshing and fun.  If you want elegance and discipline, better move to France.  Over there, they are masters at keeping a language regimented and dull.  They even have the Académie Française, a publicly-financed bunch of old farts who’ve been hard at work since 1635, stemming the tide of foreign influence and keeping the French language petrified and pure, formal and fossilised.  More about it here if you’re interested.

If languages were cars, native English speakers would be born with a Jaguar on the drive, while elsewhere they’d have Fiats and Skodas.  But however good the car is, it still needs driving.

Most people, me included, spend a lot of our time doing the bare minimum with our language.  That’s like having a Jag but never getting out of first gear.  Boring, but it’s usually enough to get by.  That’s our choice, it’s our language to do with what we will.  Dickens would be turning in his grave.  So what.  I can drive my Jag around in first gear and anyone who doesn’t like it can go hang.  But HERE’S THE THING: nobody is paying me to drive it. 

Try this interesting challenge:  find a sports article about Barcelona FC that doesn’t use the phrase “Catalan giants”.  At one time this would have been marvelously evocative, conceived by some genuinely creative writer.  Now it’s reduced by over-exposure to nothing more than standard, second-rate, journalistic bilge.

Or here’s another near-impossible quest:  to listen to a full football match commentary and not hear about the lack of “a bit of quality in the final third”.  The presence or absence of this mysterious component will supposedly decide the outcome of every game.  Not just voice commentary either – click on this Google search to see which erudite big-names are currently on the case.

Having a normal heart attack might be fatal but it doesn’t seem to be serious enough to make the news these days.  You have to have a massive heart attack.  Whatever that means.  Must be specialist medical terminology they’re using.

And so on.  A person isn’t just private, they’re intensely private. People don’t ever die of cancer.  Nor, for that matter, do they succumb to, perish from, or fall victim to it either.  They only ever lose their battle against it.  That, by the way, must rankle with many who’ve watched their loved ones bear the burden of illness lightly and end their days in dignity, with head held high and spirits unbowed.

There’s nothing wrong with emphasis, a bit of hyperbole or embellishment.  But please, not the same lazy, tired old phrases trotted out again and again.  Paid for by the word.  Paid for by us.  And let’s just remind ourselves what we are paying these people for. It’s not for their good looks.  If I employ a chauffeur I expect them to have the skill and experience to use that Jag to its full capabilities.  Not drive it around in first gear.  I can do that for myself.

There are some great exceptions out there, like Barney Ronay or Ray Hudson who stand out from the timid, idle majority.  Have a look at their stuff.  They’re not afraid to go up through the gears and take a few risky corners.  And they’ve got the skill and confidence to come through them unscathed. For the mediocre rest, well, language is supposed to be the one, essential tool of their trade.  We pay them for their expertise in the same way that we pay lawyers for their legal skills.  But we’re not getting our money’s worth.  They’re short-changing us.  Lacking, as we might say, a bit of quality.

 

welcome to my blog

Now I’m on my own with time on my hands, the blog is to keep my mind active and not feel so isolated.  If it interests anyone else, then that’s a bonus.  300 million blogs on the web, one more can’t do much harm.

I’m fairly average and also unique.  The posts will be about what I’m thinking or doing.  If you get bored please just move on.  There are 300 million others to choose from.

I live in the moors on the west side of the Pennine Hills, not far from Blackburn, Lancashire, in England.  I’m not really on my own, there are also three cats.  It’s a drafty old house.  When it’s warm I cut up trees to burn over the winter.  Sometimes the house is cut off by snow.  When I had a job I had a four-wheel drive so I could get to work.  These days if the snow is thick I just throw another log on the fire and wait for the thaw.

I don’t promise to be original or accurate.  Whatever I come up with has likely been done better by someone else sometime. That includes the name of the blog.  There isn’t any copyright on heresthething, so I can use it, but it’s also the name of Alec Baldwin’s podcast at www.wnyc.org/shows/heresthething.  This has no connection with my blog (though it’s worth a listen). There’s also a technology blog at heresthethingblog.com if you’re interested.

I won’t use the blog for personal material gain.  I’ve no affiliation, investment or other connection with any commercial organization.

When it comes to comments, I’ll keep moderation to a minimum.  I’m naturally inclined towards freedom of speech, but I can’t allow anything that’s downright illegal.  Strong disagreement is fine as long as it doesn’t turn nasty.  Personal abuse can get boring and I’d like my blog to be interesting.

might be of value but just as likely to be pointless drivel