Saturday, 31 May 2008

I before E, except after C...

Further to last week's post about spelling, I've been procrastinating with this charming game. Brilliant, of course, and much more interesting than the Population-Resources Model.

Except then I got to the end of the first game and it says "JOIN NOW!" and so I clicky on the linky, and it says INFORMATION PLEASE and one part of the information needed is PARENT'S EMAIL and SCHOOL CODE and I realise that I was celebrating the trouncing of someone who is probably ten years younger than I am (that they were asking APPROXIMATE on the hardest setting, rather than something like ZYGOTE let alone SESQUIPIDALIAN, should perhaps have tipped me off), and probably not a Cambridge undergraduate, and certainly not able to touch-type. So essentially, it was the equivalent of my beating a five year old in a wrestling match. I feel much less triumphant, as you can imagine.

Especially when the next game I played was against a child in China. I felt like a bully AND inadequate at the same time.

Friday, 30 May 2008


I have exams. They are horrid. I don't like them because they ruin my enjoyment of my subject. Bah. I am also starting to appreciate why people say A-Levels are easier than they should be.

So although there are some fabby things I want to post about, they may have to wait.

Watch this space!

Thursday, 22 May 2008

How do you do, Beauchamp? The name's Featherstone


Truly. Normally this man can do no wrong. His column* is just the right blend of information and righteous anger and dry wit and irreverence, and sort of everything that's right about the Guardian and none of what's wrong.

And then this ("Let's write our language as we speak it. Then at least our children will be able to spell properly"). Cue Five Stages of Grief:

1. Denial. "Surely not. But he's a sensible person! Perhaps I've just read too many statistics today and I misread it! Perhaps it's ironic?"

2. Anger. "Well, this is just bloody stupid, isn't it? Stupid idiots. Who doesn't know how to spell?"**

3. Bargaining. Weeell - not so much. MOVING ON.

4. Depression. "Oh God, I'm officially snobbish, elitist, and PREMATURELY ELDERLY."

5. Acceptance. "Marcel, you and I will just have to agree to disagree."

Because, for some reason, the thought of simplifying spelling fills me with horror. And that thought ALSO fills me with horror, because - well, because that's what pedantic old farts do, they quibble about irrelevancies and write Strongly Worded Letters to The Times.

I feel I can totally justify my obsession with correct punctuation. That is for clarity. But spelling is different - bad spelling doesn't obscure meaning the way bad punctuation does. I mean, today I was reading Henry IV's claim to the throne:

In the name of Fadir, Son and Holy Gost, I Henry of Lancastre chalenge yis Rewme of Yngland, and the Corone with all ye membres and ye appurtenances, als I am disendit be right lyne of the Blode, comyng fro the gude lorde Kyng Henry Therde...

And it was easy, it was fine, I stumbled maybe once. So, like Marcel says, we'd get used to it soon enough, if all those problematic silent consonants were stripped away.

But still, it makes me feel somehow icky. WHY? What madness is this? Yes, I love the way English is spelt because I'm geeky about etymology - the P in psychotherapy is there because it comes from the Greek. (What mongrel bastard word is "sycho"?) But surely that's not enough of a reason? It's a personal reason, but not one that is objectively, empirically, fundamentally justified. Especially given the ease with which I learnt to spell; it's fine for me, I can do it (with a few minor exceptions, like "column", apparently), but so many people do struggle, and I shouldn't make life harder for them just because I'm a bit nostalgic.

I don't have an answer to this conundrum. But I have come to realise why I felt so betrayed by dear Marcel. Because whatever clear, coherent, egalitarian reasons one may come up with for simplifying spelling, I can't help but feel that to do so would be ever so slightly Orwellian, and very New Labour, like all those godawful euphemisms that are imported from the States, or the endless management speak. That to do so would be to lose something magical and beguiling and subtle and romantic. And of all people, I thought Marcel Berlins would see that too.

But no. It seems that I must wend my solitary, nostalgic, elitist, pretentious but dogged way, all alone.

*I just had to type that FOUR TIMES. coloumn. colomn. column. column??? Ironic, one must say, give the subject matter of this particular post...
**Obviously me. Don't judge, anger isn't rational.

ETA: Honesty compels me to admit that I have had to go back twice to correct two spelling mistakes. In my defence (m'lud), they were typos. But still. *looks sheepish*

Monday, 19 May 2008

Books of My Childhood: 1

Books made me.

Well, technically my parents made me. They created me, and they brought me up. But books helped. A lot. Second to my parents, the books I read as a child have had the strongest formative influence on me, on my life and my character. Probably the case for many people; for others it's films, or music, or sport. But for me, unsurprisingly, it was books.

And so I decided to have a retrospective of these books. To single out the ten books which had the strongest influence on me as a kid. First up?

Picture Books

And at once, I have to cheat. Because, to be honest, there isn't one I can really single out.

My favourites were (and are):

- Each Peach Pear Plum, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (I still know it more or less off by heart), and when I was slightly older, The Jolly Postman
- Brambly Hedge, by Jill Barklem
- Tim and Charlotte, by Edward Ardizzone (and the lovely Diana and her Rhinoceros)
- Hairy McLary
- And, of course, Asterix and Tintin.

Interestingly, these only came back after a little thought (except for Asterix, which is still a favourite). What has really stuck in my mind are the books that disturbed me, or evoked some other strong emotional response:

- The work of John Burningham, especially John Patrick Norman McHenessy: The Boy Who Was Always Late: it was something about the pictures that made my skin crawl.
- The Polar Express. This book is beautiful, but very very eerie, and I was never quite comfortable with it as a child.
- A superlatively creepy book about a painter whose paintings come to life, and who eventually goes into one his paintings and never returns.
- And Badger's Parting Gifts, which was given to my brother and I when our grandmother died. This wasn't creepy - in fact, it was very sweet, but its associations have imprinted it on my memory. Especially vivid is the page when the (dying) Badger is going along a tunnel, and finds that he can walk without his stick, and then runs, full of joy.

What about you lot? Which are your favourite (or least favourite) picture books?

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Like the genie in Aladdin...

Swiv, your wish is my command.

Alistair Cook

Michael Vaughan - I wanted a picture of his TEXT-BOOK cover drive but it was NOWHERE

My No. 1 inexplicable crush, Paul Collingwood

And betraying my country somewhat, but...

Brett Lee. He's a scrappy bugger and I love him

Anyone I've missed out?

Better than a rain dance

Have just worked out why, after nearly two weeks of blissful balmy sunshine, it has gone cold and rainy.

The Test started today.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

This post is brought to you by the words YOU TWERP


Thank you.

You know those times when you really should get on to something, but you don't because you've got better things to do (like watch Spooks), and then you've suddenly got twenty billion things to do all at once NOT TO MENTION EXAMS and this thing hasn't got done and it's all too late and you look like a tit in front of your entire college and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it unless someone has a magic wand or perhaps a time machine? Yeah, me neither.

Until today.

THIS WILL BE THE MISTAKE FROM WHICH I WILL LEARN. And until then, I've just got to grit my teeth and not care. Somehow.

And also re-read seven hundred pages of political thought.


Monday, 5 May 2008

Summer in the city, cleavage cleavage cleavage...

In Cambridge, this Bank Holiday:

1. On Sunday morning, upstairs in Caffe Nero, two small boys, aged about ten, were sitting at a table - waiting for their parents to come upstairs, we guessed. But rather than talk about whatever it is small boys talk it these days, one started to hold forth on The Evils of the Modern World As Illustrated By The Coffee Society. It were EXCELLENT.

Small Boy 1: And then it's ridiculous, right, because people's social lives revolve around coffee - and they don't even like it!
Small Boy 2: ...
SB 1: You say, let's go for coffee, and you do, and where's your money going? It's stupid.
SB 2: ...
SB 1: It's just society TELLING YOU that that's what you want to do.
SB 2: ...
SB 1: Anyway, let's go, yeah?
SB 2: Cool.

And then - and this is the best bit - at the top of the stairs, Small Boy 1 stopped, went to the side where they keep the sugar/napkins/water/stirry stick things, grabs a handful of sugar, says "Right, now we can go", and they leave.

My New Hero.

2. I saw a busker playing a guitar in a bin. Like, sitting in one of those bins with a top and two holes on either side, his elbow sticking out of one hole, the neck of the guitar out of the other. I can't explain it any better than that, but believe me, it was exactly as odd as it sounds. He was quite good, though.

3. I learnt about Monasticism, and Literacy, and Population, and the Peasant's Revolt, and It Was Good.

4. I had a preliminary dissertation meeting, and they agreed my topic! Hurrah hurrah three cheers and you lot should all run for the hills right about now, because from the summer this blog is just going to be full of "amusing" anecdotes about Edward III.

But seriously though, DISSERTATION DISSERTATION DISSERTAAAAAAAAAAAATION! Provisional title: '"A successful king was a successful soldier": assess this view of late medieval English kingship'. OOH YEAH. It's a brilliant title because it's so flexible - it can be as broad or as focused as I want it to be, and it can be applied to any discussion. For example, I was also thinking about deposition theory, and how the polity could cope with a rubbish king (ended up being too broad and has been done to death anyway). This way, I can talk about the deposition of Richard II and how Henry IV had to spin it that it was a trial by combat because Richard had sinned against God by abusing his power...


5. I also got very cranky at the huge numbers of people who descended on Cambridge and Got In My Way. Christ, people walk SLOWLY in the sunshine.

How are you all?

Friday, 2 May 2008

No Title Today, Thank You

Apologies for the absence - I have returned to Cambridge and therefore fallen headfirst into the insanity that is Exam Term. And then I got ill, and for two days could barely move, let alone do the ten billion things I needed to do. Rubbish.

I'm in a grraaaaaargh mood today, so no proper update - I'm retiring to bed for a recuperative nap, and then off to Starbucks for more work. And then dinner, and then more work. And then sleep, and more work. And so on FOREVER.

Or more accurately, June 13th.

On the plus side, I just bought a book for 1p. £2.76, actually, if you include postage (it's from Amazon), but there's something rather lovely about buying a book for practically nothing.

Thank god I don't feel like moving, or I know I'd go and do therapeutic book buying, and that will only end in destitution and penury because most books in this town are definitely NOT 1p each. Those £3.99s from Oxfam add up alarmingly quickly. Grrr.