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I am writing, I just have an invisible keyboard.

When men get ill…..

My husband had a hip replacement a while ago. And when he got home, as a patient, he was really, well, ok. Not half as bad as when he has a slight cold.

For the first couple of days, he really wasn’t brilliantly mobile. And on the first morning back from hospital, his legs swathed in compression bandages, he gave me a very funny look and said, ‘Would you do something for me, that I’ve never asked you to do before?’

‘Yes….’ I muttered, crossing my fingers and hoping it wasn’t going to be anything too disgusting.

He looked at me pleadingly. And I mean, really, really, pleadingly, and said: ‘Do you think you could help me off with my stockings?’

This is for every woman who has a husband with a slight cold:

Attack of the arty barbarians


I spend my working life editing stuff. I used to work on a national paper, editing news stories about crazed axe murderers, cute squirrels, and sex-mad politicians, but now I wade through reports by academics and marketing analysts, and occasionally have mild hysteria at what they do to the English language. Today, though, the vandalism of this beautiful language has hit a new low.

I give you Professor Olivier Richon, head of the photography programme at the Royal College of Art, who says, on the college website:

‘The programme understands photography as a medium with no fixed identity. This disregard for a fixed essence is photography’s strength: no aesthetic purity but a multiplicity of rhetorical forms used for the creation of fact, fiction and fantasy. Equally the boundary between the still and the moving image is now fluid and porous, enabling new forms of image making to be created.’

Olivier, hang your head in shame. What kind of bollocks is that? Can you not write simple English? Or are you frightened that if you wrote clearly, your course would seem boring?

There’s more:

‘We have a fluid approach to image making. Whether still or moving, analogue or digital, the photographic image is for us a visual form that aims to be thoughtful as well as playful: an allegorical and thoroughly visual form.’

What possessed you to write such tosh, Olivier? ‘The moving image is now fluid and porous’??? ‘a fixed essence’ ?? ‘a fluid approach to image making’?? Wtf? (Calm down, ed). It’s photography, sweetheart, not hydraulic engineering.

And of course photography is ‘thoroughly visual’. What else would it be? Invisible?

A hydraulic pump

A hydraulic pump

A camera

A camera

Ok, so everybody who writes has their own idiosyncrasies. Tabloid newspaper reporters cannot resist talking about people living in ‘leafy suburbia’ or ‘a neat semi-detached house’, especially if they’ve come to a sticky end. Mums-to-be are always young, even when they’re middle-aged. Brussels is full of bureaucrats, and Whitehall teems with mandarins.

A mandarin

A mandarin

More mandarins

More mandarins

The health service no longer talks about doctors and nurses and patients, but medical health practitioners and end users. Query: Is that ‘end’ as in, ‘my end is itchy’, or as in ‘my end is nigh’?

Academics always love showing off how clever they are, and their day is made, it seems to me, if they can write things that no one else understands. Their theories are disseminated upstream and downstream and are transparently solid. They love to take perfectly respectable words and force them to do jobs they weren’t intended for. Let’s have a moment’s silence here for poor old sustainable and legacy, and high income demand elasticity.

This way of writing is not pretty, but I’ve come to expect it with a fatalistic shudder.

I understand that the people involved in marketing art have to talk about auras and experiental workshops. (I have no idea what it means, but I suppose they have to have an outlet for their inner demons.)

But, a multiplicity of rhetorical forms??? Get Out Of Town.

Professor Richon, don’t do this to your students. You wouldn’t jump up and down on a camera (all right, maybe you would in an experiental workshop). Use this language properly. Say what you mean. Don’t fuck about with something millions of people hold very dear. (Bet you’d have to something to say if I spray-painted the Mona Lisa.)

Here’s a thought; if your writing is bilge, then maybe your course is, too. If you can’t write decent prose, (just try, dammit), then why not put a photo on your website that shows what the course is about? (The one you’ve got at the moment, of a dog just about to pee on a ladder, is, frankly, bizarre.)

P.S. You spelt engagement wrong in the third par.

P.P.S. In your next attempt, spare some thought for the rules of grammar, too. Image-making takes a hyphen; and the phrase ‘for us’ is a subordinate clause, and needs commas; but your piece is so woeful, you need to start again. Really, you do.

P.P.S. Okay, I’m calm. Rant over.

Images via Creative Commons, courtesy of





Confessions of a lapsed writer


I am supposed to be taking part in NaNoWriMo. But I have to confess, I’ve been backsliding. First part of my romantic novel; a breeze. They meet, he’s handsome she’s starchy, they cross swords (not literally, but actually…that’s an idea) they kiss and then…..oh, I dunno. It’s not got enough oomph. So, naturally, I’ve been displacing like mad.


I have cleaned the picture rails in the kitchen. (Why? Who looks at them?)

I have cleaned the oven (actually I got my husband to do that, while I had a cup of tea and supervised. It’s very therapeutic watching other people work).


I have been watching Strictly Come Dancing It takes Two on Catch Up TV. (How sad is that???) But really, Judy had to go, for the good of the collective. She was stiffer than, well, a stiff. And if you get to the point where the only thing in your favour as a dancer is your mum’s shortbread then, really, it is time to shuffle off.

I have been wandering through YouTube, looking at all those Armstrong and Miller pilot sketches. This one has to be my favourite:

But really, there is nothing to beat looking up pictures of all the silly place names in Britain.


I know, I know. Back to work.








Remembering Reg, an Old Contemptible


Today is Armistice Day, and I want to pay tribute to Reg Hill, one of the last of the Old Contemptibles.

He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with star for conspicuous gallantry and I was sent to interview him when I worked on a weekly newspaper. Being a junior reporter and only 19 I didn’t really know much about anything, and that day when I arrived on his doorstep in November 1978 was no exception. My knowledge of the Great War was fairly sketchy and I had just pushed the doorbell when I realised I had nothing to write on and nothing to write with.

croix de guerre

But by then it was too late. Reg had already opened his front door. He was 96 and he looked small and vulnerable. I couldn’t help thinking that he actually looked like a tortoise that had lost its shell. But in two ticks he had welcomed me in, brushed off my ineptness, put the kettle on and given me a pen and a fancy boxed set of paper and envelopes to write on.

Reg was with the British Expeditionary Force present in France up to to the end of the First Battle of Ypres on 22 November 1914. Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, who was famously dismissive of the BEF, reportedly issued an order on 19 August 1914 to ‘exterminate… the treacherous English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army.’

Sixty four years later Reg settled into his armchair and said, ‘There’s only three of us Old Contemptibles left in North Bucks now. That’s what Kaiser Bill called us. So we thought, right, that’s our name then.’

Reg was a sergeant artificer in the Rocket Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery in 1916. ‘We were in the trenches after a bit of a do, and we were being shelled and I heard this voice shouting, ‘Blesse, blesse,’ and I knew that meant, wounded, see, in French. So I put my head above the parapet and I could see this bloke lying out in No Man’s Land. I couldn’t just leave him there, could I?’

Despite his mates’ best advice not to risk it, Reg scrambled over the top, under fire, ran to the man and heaved him on to his back.

‘We were heavily shelled – I had to jump into shell holes three times on the way back,’ said Reg. ‘Terrible places, they were. Full of water.’

And he carried that man on his back all the way to the nearest first aid post. ‘They made such a fuss when I got there,’ he said, in some wonderment. ‘And being French, they insisted on plying me with wine before they let me go back.’

Reg went on to fight at Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele, and survived both, before being invalided out with a wounded arm.

‘I always go to the Remembrance Day services,’ he said. ‘Because I lost some good chums. No mistake about that.’

Reg died not long after that interview and was missed by many. I still think of him.

Dress down Fridays

Fellow blogger Naptime Thoughts has been sending me pictures of Walmart People. These are rather oddly dressed people who go shopping in the US supermarket chain Walmart (which owns Asda). For example:


and there’s:


Or possibly even:


She asked me if we have anything similar in Britain, and I’m afraid I’m a bit out of my depth. The closest I could find was Tesco asking customers in its 24-hour stores not to come shopping in their pyjamas.


But frankly, if you have nice jammies, why not? So, instead, I thought I’d do a post on people on the London Underground. The joy of London, is that it doesn’t matter what you look like, nobody takes any notice of you. At All. Many foreigners think this is because we are polite. It’s more to with Not Wanting To Get Involved With A Nutter.

I give you life on the Tube:

Fans of Hartlepool United (don’t ask):


A pink elf:


And my personal favourite:


Poor bloke. I know the Northern Line is bad, but he obviously got on at Embalment.

Pictures courtesy of Pinterest:



People of Walmart:




Daily Mirror:


The fad:


The Telegraph:


Write on


On Saturday I signed up for NaNoWriMo. On Sunday I wished I hadn’t. I haven’t written a full length romantic novel for nearly 20 years, and I’ve begun to think that I should try to write another one, simply to see if I can still do it.

I always tell my students to plan; to think about their characters, to have some idea of what is going to happen. Did I do this? No. I did not. I just woke up with a vague idea of my hero and heroine meeting in a car park (yes, really) and charged straight into it. First page, great; second page, okay; third page, blank.

I hadn’t realised, at first, that when you take part in the National Novel Writing Month, you:

  • actually sign up to a website;
  • enter your target length;
  • are given daily target of words to complete.

And get this; there’s a little window where, every day, you log in how many words you’ve done.


So there I was on the morning of November 1, thinking that I was just going to coast along in a dreamy sort of way, writing an unspecified amount every day (so, nothing, then, ed) until I contacted Tara Sparling and she put me right on the details. (Now there’s a girl who is on fire –well, not literally, you understand, because that would be somewhat inconvenient, but she has a great idea and she is, as they say in Ireland, away on a hack with it).

A few hours later (she must have hypnotised me, guv) I found the website, signed in, put in 50,000 words as my target and the NaNoWriMo computer helpfully told me that my average of words per day should be 1,167. On Saturday I wrote 867 words. Yesterday I deleted quite a lot of those, and wrote 871 more. At this rate, the computer has informed me, I will complete my magnum opus on January 26 (what year, ed?).

Trouble is I have no idea what my characters are going to do next. They’re just sitting there, like dummies in a car, and there’s no oomph. I’d like to shoot both of them, but I’m not writing a murder mystery. It’s all very well having a target average and a deadline, but since my characters are so wooden that they’re giving my brain splinters, it might be time to rethink my strategy.

It’s odd to think of writing in such a clinical way, but when I used to write full time I sat down every morning and aimed to write 2,000 words, even if half of it was rubbish and I had to scrub it. Overall I still achieved something, to the point where I ended up with a complete book. And then I had children, and stuff happened, and writing romantic novels rather fell by the wayside.

I’ve signed up with NaNoWriMo because I need to get that discipline back. I’m determined to get to the end of another book by November 30. So, I’m going to be ruthless. I’m leaving my frustrating pair of no-hopers outside a Hollywood motel, with their fuzzy backgrounds and unplanned future and I’m going straight to Plan B. I’m going to resurrect my plans for a book I began to draft this summer, which lapsed because summer and a lack of self confidence got in the way.

I really think I might make it to the end of this one. I have a cunning plan, you know.

Pictures via Creative Commons, via:




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