What’s good and what’s not so good

Hoo boy. I know it’s been too long since I wrote anything. That’s the trouble with families: visitors from overseas (so much fun) and others interstate. Anyway, enough of my excuses; I’m back now, so here goes.

Recently I started to read a book—nothing unusual there. However, I quickly decided that I have more to do with my life than waste it on books in which I can’t relate to a) the basic premise, or b) the phony characters. It seems the writer had taken characters from contemporary times and endowed many of them with Victorian morals and views; it simply didn’t ring true. I set it aside and picked up another book. Now—just one page in—it has me hooked.

Contrast the above with a fantasy written by someone I know. Here’s the rub: I can relate to those fey/fairy/faerie/mystical characters of two hundred—or more—years of age far more easily than I can to those in the first book set in modern times.

So which author is the better? For me that’s a no-brainer.

What is it that separates the clever writer from the ho-hum? It’s the basic idea, the nub of the thing, it’s heart and soul. That’s what has to be correct. And it all takes time—lots of it.

The development of character in the broadest sense: the authenticity of the characters, place (even if it is somewhere like, say, Middle Earth) and time. The powers of description, the building of tension, the withholding of important snippets of information—although they may be hinted at, tantalisingly—the red herrings, and the hooks. Oh the hooks! How to start a chapter with a bang, how to finish with an explosion.

It is an art; one at which I am a novice, yet a keen student. I sometimes wonder if authors who churn out books are bored with their lot. I hope not.

The editing (although it’s dear to my heart of course) is what follows. Talking of editing, sometimes it appears difficult for editors to maintain consistency. Take, for example, something as basic as tree varieties. Some vernacular (or common) names I saw recently were printed with a capital and some with lowercase. For the record, lowercase is fine when using vernacular names: gum, wattle, oak, etc, unless there’s a proper name involved. If, however, you want to use the botanical name there is a convention to follow: Eucalyptus grandis (flooded or rose gum) attracts a capital for the genus and lowercase for the ‘grandis‘ bit. It should be written in italics. Should you be inclined you can check it out in reputable publications; that’s not my aim here.

If an editor wants to maintain consistency then a style sheet—a list of discrete rules for a particular document (though an editor may, of course, use the same style for many documents) should be developed, made use of and forwarded to the author for reference and approval. And then adhered to. It’s an editor’s role to point out inconsistencies and if there is a style sheet to refer to, life is easier for everyone.

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Words: use of

Resource, resources, resourceful

Here I go again; another bit of high horsing.

Resource (noun). A source of support, supply, or aid. 1640-50; French ressource, Old French ressourse, noun derivative of resourdre to rise up. Latin resurgere, equivalent to re- re- + surgere to rise up, lift.

Resources, the collective wealth of a country or its means of producing wealth. Usually … money, or any property that can be converted into money; assets. Often … an available means afforded by the mind or one’s personal capabilities: an action or measure to which one may have recourse in an emergency; expedient. capability in dealing with a situation or in meeting difficulties:
Resourceful (adjective). Having the resources to deal with something; usually needs to be done quickly, efficiently and often under difficult circumstances.
Resourcefulness (adjective). Able to use deal skillfully and promptly with problems.

So far so good.

I learnt that the term human resources was coined in 1893 (who’da thought it?) but didn’t enter general parlance until 1958 where a Yale economist, E. Wight Bakke, used it.

The following is taken directly from Wikipedia (yeah, I know):

One major concern about considering people as assets or resources is that they will be commoditized, objectified and abused. Some analysis suggests that human beings are not “commodities” or “resources”, but are creative and social beings in a productive enterprise. 

Some HR departments should not—ever—be permitted to be anywhere near people. (Again, I speak from experience so please note my use of the adjective ‘some’ lest I upset folk.)

Human capital is another term which, in my opinion, does nothing to dignify any of us.

It seems I am not the only one who dislikes the term human resources. What was wrong with personnel?

Personnel

Personnel (noun). Body of people in an organisation or place (of work).
1825-35; French, noun use of personnel (adj.) personal. Late Latin personale, neuter of personalis; replacing personal (noun), Anglicized form of French personnel; compare German Personal, variant of Personale, Italian personale.

And finally, products (it has nothing to do with the above)

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t much hold for banks, insurance companies, health insurance companies, financial institutions in general, having ‘products’. Products they are not—they are services (or policies) provided to us in exchange for our money. A product is something someone—anyone—produces: a jar of jam, a loaf of bread, a kilo of gold, ten kilos of rice, a tonne of steel, a bale of wool, a truckload of fruit or vegetables.

Bleat on, Margie. I doubt anyone in HR or on a bank board will heed you.

As an aside and something I found strange when I first arrived on the shores of this wide brown land was the terminology of ‘wool/beef/dairy producers and growers’. To me the sheep produced and grew the wool, the graziers/farmers/cow cockies harvested it. Farmers grow crops. I still don’t really get it, and have been here for, ooh, a long time now. In the scheme of things does it really matter? Not a whit.

Whereas those financial institutions keep on taking and we are still commodities.

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Soliciting for readers

Solicit. I was wondering about this word (oh, the things that excite word-nerds) and its better-known relatives. So I’ll start from the top.

Solicit (verb) early 15th century, from Middle French soliciter. It meant to disturb, trouble or agitate; it’s from the Latin solicitudo which means anxiety. From there, somehow, it evolved to mean to entreat or petition—so that’s the ladies of the night part. But lawyers? Yes, from the mid–fifteenth century it came to mean to further business (ah, I can see the link) and to manage affairs. No wonder our trans–Pacific cousins prefer the word ‘attorney’.

Solicitation (verb). If you write a begging letter, it might be called a letter of solicitation. So far so good.

Solicitude (noun), however, takes on a more compassionate hue. If you are in a state of solicitude, you are really, really concerned—maybe even to the point of bringing tea and toast, tissues and tisane to an invalid. It might also mean a cause of concern.

You are, of course, being solicitous (adjective).

What most of us don’t want is unsolicited (adjective) anything very much. For some reason we have omitted to put an ‘Australia Post Items Only’ or more bluntly ‘No Junk Mail’ sticker on our letterbox; so we accumulate piles of unsolicited bumf from local businesses.

The most unwelcome unsolicited stuff, though, is, I think, advice. We usually ask advice when we have either:

  • made up our minds already and want our decision confirmed, or
  • really don’t have a clue what to do and hope someone wiser and more experienced in the matter to be advised on can assist us come to a sensible conclusion.

I’m sure we all I know finger-waggers—those who start sentences with: ‘What you must do…’ Well, if these people’s lives weren’t often a series of missteps I might be more open to listening. It’s like looking at a self-help book on, say, relationships, where the author happily lists their long list of failures before they became enlightened.

Guaranteed success? I think not.

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Butterflies, cauliflowers and strawberries

I’ve seen quite a few butterflies recently. I thought it was too early for them, but perhaps it’s all to do with climate change (for which we humans are, of course, not responsible). Today I saw a dear little yellow one. I think it was probably a Eurema hecabe, either the common or the large grass yellow. Then I read that they are seen in all seasons. Whatever it was it was pretty, delicate and calming. I have heard butterflies and dragonflies are believed to be the spirits of those we love who have gone before us. There are many stories of sightings which have brought tranquility to anxious souls. I think it’s a lovely idea.

It seems that the etymology of butterfly isn’t really obscure (sad, I love a good mystery). It comes from the Old English buttorfleoge—literally butter and fly. There doesn’t appear to be consensus as to why the butter part, but it might have been something to do with colour of many common English butterflies; or it might have had something to do with the belief that insects (or witches in disguise) consumed butter or milk left uncovered. Then it might also have something to do with the colour of their excrement. Hmmm.

When we lived on the farm we used to have young Swedish friends and relatives to stay for the summer months. They helped on the farm and assisted my mother with household things, including looking after her youngest daughter (that’d be me). One came in from the garden one day and announced: ‘There is a cauliflower flying round the garden.’ It was a butterfly. I can understand the confusion (not!). It caused much mirth—almost as much as having one of them read from one of my favourite books about Little Johnny Jackdaw. ‘J’ is not in Swedes’ vocabulary.

Cauliflower isn’t nearly as exciting as witches stealing milk or butter. It comes directly from the Italian cavoli fiori (flowered cabbage). The Old English is cole florye. As any gardener knows, cauliflowers and other brassicas attract butterflies, so perhaps there is an unknown relationship we are yet to discover. Perhaps the Swedes could enlighten us.

I always thought that strawberries got their name from strew-berry because they strew, or threw, out their runners. It has nothing to do with the straw on which they are often grown, that being a much more recent gardening technique than the berry itself, which grew wild. The Old English is streawberige or streaberie and its origins are lost in those mists of time. It could be, apparently, because of the little seeds which resemble straw (if you have a vivid imagination) or chaff, but I prefer the first explanation.

Raspberry’s etymology also seems a bit cloudy. It might come from raspis berry, or rapise, a sweet rose-colored wine. I think it should have come from the scratchiness of the raspberry canes; but there is no intimation of that anywhere, other than the possibility of an Old Walloon word raspoie, meaning thicket. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the rhyming slang for raspberry tart.

And to finish, doesn’t fledermaus have a much nicer ring to it than bat. I’m sure Strauss wouldn’t have called his opera The Bat.

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You say potato, I say potato

I wonder often about pronunciation. Yes, only other word-nerds will probably understand and appreciate my obsession with things linguistic.

Recently a friend sent me this link: https://aeon.co/essays/why-is-english-so-weirdly-different-from-other-languages. The article is quite long, so here’s a little taster.

Clip on a suffix to the word wonder, and you get wonderful. But – clip on an ending to the word modern and the ending pulls the accent ahead with it: MO-dern, but mo-DERN-ity, not MO-dern-ity. That doesn’t happen with WON-der and WON-der-ful, or CHEER-y and CHEER-i-ly. But it does happen with PER-sonal, person-AL-ity.

What’s the difference? It’s that -ful and -ly are Germanic endings, while -ity came in with French. French and Latin endings pull the accent closer – TEM-pest, tem-PEST-uous – while Germanic ones leave the accent alone. One never notices such a thing, but it’s one way this ‘simple’ language is actually not so.

I have read that the way people from the Indian subcontinent pronounce English words can be traced back to the Welsh railway workers who drove the engines during the time of British Raj. I hear people say cu-CUM-ber, whereas English speakers from, say, the UK or Australia, would say CU-cumber; again, do-CU-ment rather than DOC-u-ment, and devel-OP-ment rather than dev-EL-op-ment.

But it seems it runs much deeper than Welsh engineers. Since both Hindi and Welsh come from the mother of tongues (proto–Indo–European) and English is such a mishmash of things; therefore, the Celtic and Hindi languages have more in common than train drivers. I also hear Vs and Ws interchanged. I understand that in Hindi they are both written the same, therefore I can appreciate that it would be difficult to know which fits where. There are other examples of extraneous letters: Italians do not have a J in their alphabet; Spaniards speaking English add an E before S (as in España); German speakers also find W more than a mouthful, and so on. I was watching a film recently where a Portuguese speaker was being taught English and had to sound ‘th’. I enjoyed the scene—at the character’s expense. Mind you, his English was a great deal better than my Portuguese.

Then we enter yet another realm. DE-fence, as opposed to de-FENCE, a fancy, French-sounding homAGE, as opposed to HOMage. Still, our trans–Pacific cousins also refer to ‘erbs, so I suppose that follows.

Then we have words such as envelope. Are you speaking of the stationery article or of something completely covered in something, easy to see where the similarities lie. But for people whose first language is not English, to learn that it depends on the context must be yet another bridge to cross to become fluent in our mother tongue. Think too, of read. Is it past or present? What about survey? Do you survey the land or do you have a survey undertaken?

There are many words I now automatically pronounce with an Aussie accent (so I should, after nearly half a century living here), e.g: falcon (not fawlcon as I used to), I still have a problem with nice men called Grant; I find it nigh impossible to call them Grant, but revert to the old long vowel and call them Graant. I still say caastle, paass and baath (which doesn’t make me at Baathist, I promise). I cling to aitch without the aspirant—but then I was educated in a C of E school, and not within the Roman Catholic system. I once had a discussion with a learned friend who decried the use of ‘a hotel’, but I told him that nowadays we can use the indefinite article where the following word begins with an ‘h’ as long as it’s aspirated—e.g. a hymn, a hump, a huge helicopter. Of course there are some exceptions—we are talking of English here.

Warning, whinge paragraph ahead. Talking of ‘a’, why has its pronunciation changed (notably in pollie-speak) to be emphasised as ‘ay’. I much prefer the softer ‘uh’. Picky, picky. Or perhaps pernickety/persnickety. Sports commentators have an irritating habit of adding an ‘uh’ to the end of so many words-uh. And why to television reporters have to return to the studio with a ‘Peter?’, ‘Tracey?’ Isn’t it obvious that the coverage is returning? Also, they often begin their telecasts with ‘Now’. Well, it’s bleedin’ obvious, isn’t it? And don’t get met started on cere-moany… which so many of them have to attend.

A friend stumbles over the word recalcitrant. Once we have a perceived obstacle, our brains apparently freeze. I love the little mnemonics to help readers to know (generally) how to pronounce words: the vowel at the end indicates how the vowel in the middle should sound. That’s fine with poke, henge, dine and life—but what about love and come? Blood and flood? Where do they sit?

One word I find most difficult to remember how to spell (no problem with the pronunciation) is diarrhoea; today I read a mnemonic: Dead In A Rolls-Royce Having Over-Eaten Again. Maybe I’ll recall it now, although I hope that it’s not too often.

And another thing.
I have found an ‘ism’ I really, really like. Prism!

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What’s in a name

Names; monikers; sobriquets, appellations, handles, labels (aagh!), tags, nicknames, pet names…

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet

The incomparable J. K. Rowling says we have all been mispronouncing Voldemort—he who shall not be named. We shouldn’t, apparently, pronounce the final T. It becomes so much more exotic when pronounced á la Français. How many writers have been inspired by her story and her multiple rejection slips; I know I have.

My father had a bottomless pit of quotations. One I recall related to a distinctly Cornish name beginning with ‘Tre’, so he came up with: ‘By Tre, Pol and Pen you will known Cornish men.’ He also knew the difference between a Kentish Man and a Man of Kent. I, on the other hand, always have to check with Google to see which of the two comes from east of the River Medway (Man of Kent). If you’re a woman, you’d be a Maid of Kent or a Kentish Maid. (I’m glad I’m a Moonraker: Australian and British.)

If you simply type ‘Names’ into Google you will find pages and pages of lists of babies’ names. You can, of course, refine it by adding Australian, Scottish, Welsh, Irish—whatever. Well, that’s not strictly true, as most of the lists refer to most popular post-1788 Australian names for babies; I couldn’t find as much on Indigenous names. You have to search specifically for those. I’m optimistic and hope they make a resurgence so—particularly those with an Indigenous heritage—use them for their children. I also hope that we are all empathetic and perceptive enough not to choose names when they clearly don’t fit with our heritage. It seems, to me, presumptuous and heavy-handed.

I answer to Margie—that’s how I introduce myself and it’s how family members introduce me to others. If anyone calls me Margaret I am immediately transported back to boarding school and the dark pit opens up: ‘I must have done something wrong.’ ‘Here we go again.’ How ridiculous is that! I have told people that Margie has a hard G and they have looked at me blankly. Oh dear. I prefer not to be called Marg (sounds so harsh) and I definitely ark up at Marje. Is it so difficult to call a person by the name they offer as theirs? Why do we wish to change them?

Guilty! I made a huge blunder recently when I left a note for someone I’d met a couple of times; I named her incorrectly on the piece of paper. How rude did I feel? She, kind soul, seems to have forgiven me and we have moved on.

I always, however, remember the names of peoples’ animals. Ask me any of the names of the dogs, horses and cats in our vicinity and I will be able to tell you. It probably says a lot about me.

Now I am going out on a limb. I recall a couple of wonderful Billy Connolly quotes about names. The first was from when he was very young and in church sang lustily about ‘Gladly’, his cross-eyed bear. The second wasn’t so polite. He made the statement: ‘Clint! What sort of a name is that? Sounds like a typing error.’ I fell about then and it still amuses me. Yeah, yeah, little things please little minds.

How clever were the wonderful Beatles? Who thought up that name? So I Googled it. I understand that John Lennon and Stu Sutcliffe so loved Buddy Holly and the Crickets, they wanted another insect-inspired name. It certainly was—both inspired and entomological. Much as I would like to attend, the planned Paul McCartney concert here later this year is way out of my price range. I’ll stick with the memories of sitting through all those sessions of A Hard Day’s Night with my friend Julia and our trip to see the Beatles at the Hammersmith Palais. At least I have the songs at my fingertips and at the click of a mouse. Thankfully my musical tastes have expanded since those days. Now I’d refer to my musical taste as eclectic.

But I wanted to find out more about what makes our names so unique. I read a little of what’s available on the internet and find that, should we be lumbered with a ‘different’ sort of name it can make us more resilient; alternatively, it can make us more vulnerable—but the more likely effect on how we present ourselves and what happens to us is how we were raised. (http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/why-your-name-matters)

I love this Aussie piece: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-04/baby-name-regret-tips-living-with-unique-name/7805968. I know someone whose name is Michael—yep, a lovely name, and relatively common. Not much problem with spelling that, you’d think. But how many times is he referred to as Micheal? I’ve lost count. Micheal is the Gaelic spelling. Hmm, that could work.

And here’s a blog from the heart: https://www.popsugar.com.au/love/Why-You-Shouldnt-Choose-Unique-Baby-Name-42550483?utm_medium=redirect&utm_campaign=US:AU&utm_source=www.google.com.au. Makes you think, doesn’t it…

And just for good measure, and with reference to my post on labels and labelling, I found this wonderful piece of wisdom: ‘Once you label me you negate me.’ – Søren Kierkegaard. Perhaps that’s why I think they are so disagreeable.

http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2014/12/whats-name-bobs-uncle-curious-expressions/

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Gratitude

Gratitude. Noun: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Yes, I realise it’s been overdone a bit recently, but this morning I woke and was
filled with it. You see, I’d slept for eight and a half hours, with only one quick wake up when Zac barked at something. I usually  sleep for far fewer than five hours, so last night was heaven-sent. No pill, no hot milk, no relaxing bath (I don’t find them relaxing at all), no boring bit of book on statistics or something—just a warm bed, a wheat pack on a sore bit for a while, a cup of lavender and chamomile tea—and then nothing. Not even a dream I recall.

How to cultivate the habit? That’s the question. I know about sleep hygiene (such a silly expression, if you ask me—which you didn’t) and try as I might, my monkey-mind usually takes over at bedtime. It finds stuff to think about which could easily come to the fore through the day, but which lies there waiting to ambush me once the light goes out. It’s not even as though I worry about stuff; I just don’t seem able to find the off-switch.

And of course that’s not all I am grateful for.

I love, love, love my weekly restorative yoga practice. I mentioned to the teacher, Laurina, (https://www.laurinakersten.com/) that it’s the only time of the week when I am still. I’m sure those of you who practise the practice will understand what I mean—unless you are one of those who can switch off. At the moment, in this glorious winter weather, we enter the little hall at Closeburn and find all the heaters on. We need the warmth as buildings here are built to keep people cool in the long hot summers. There we lie, relaxing in gentle stretching poses, listening to calming music and Laurina’s mellifluous voice reciting some of the poetry she brings. I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful it is.

I am grateful I live here, in this little corner of SE Queensland, in this beautiful valley where we are surrounded by forest, bird-life, animals and like-minded people.

I am eternally grateful that I grew up in such a loving family in such happy surroundings and was given early instruction on what is right and what is wrong. I am grateful I grew up in one of the most gorgeous parts of England.

I am grateful for my good health. There have been a few minor hiccups/hiccoughs along the way, but nothing which has stopped me from continuing to live the life I lead.

I am grateful that I am still able to work. I love to work. It fulfils me and my need to contribute, sounds a bit trite and self-promoting but I hope you understand. I know it keeps my mind active, as does doing crossword puzzles and those little word games in the daily paper. I have yet to embark on sudoku—it’s numbers, you see, not words…

I am grateful for my dog, Zac. He, as everyone’s well-treated and loved dog does, gives me unconditional love. He is a constant companion—in two senses of the word and he ensures that I walk daily. He is soft, gentle and loving; not a nasty bitey bone in his body. He has (touch wood) maintained good health apart from a bit of arthritis in his old age; I can relate to that. He’s twelve now.

Then there are my friends. I am lucky enough to have many. Some I see only irregularly, some only when I travel overseas to see family and friends, some I see much more often. Friends slot into different groups: some are from the book club to which I belong and which has been going for nearly 35 years, some are from the writers’ group; some from the writing group; some are local, some live in distant places. Some are blood relatives, some not, some are younger than I am, some older, some mere kids! I can’t think of one of my friends who is not generous with their time, their love and their support.

Earlier this year I started a daily gratitude journey where I noted something for which I was grateful and put the notes into a jar. But then I stopped. It seemed forced and phony. When I am grateful for something I prefer to think it then and there, and as in this case, to share it with everyone who might read it. I am unsure if I will open the jar again and re-read all the notes. I doubt it. I might use them to start the fire in the evenings—another thing for which I am grateful.

I am grateful to live here in Australia, in a democracy, where we can state what we want without fear of state-sanctioned retribution. I know I can rabbit on about what I feel on social media—and I have done. Sometimes the responses make me laugh out loud, but my friends know where I stand re politicians, the law and government. I feel safe, I feel (mostly) well-governed—and when I don’t feel well-governed any more, I trust my vote counts.

I have dealt with some awful things and I have come through. I am grateful that I have had the strength and the help of professionals to enable me to do so.

And then there’s my family both here in Australia and in England. I am not going to list all the qualities of each one here—you know who you are and that I love you. Suffice to say that I am blessed.

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Labels, tags, logos, call them what you will. But please don’t label me.

Rambling, stream of consciousness post here…

Labels have become my bêtes noire. Okay, they’re useful on packets and jars, machinery, equipment and shops, and for identifying people you want to seek out at conferences, but as for most of the rest of ’em, you can keep ’em.

Clothing labels are far too often scratchy and irritating. The ones at the backs of the collar prickle napes of necks, while the ones on inside seams make for unseemly scratching and clothes-plucking. I much prefer brands where the manufacturer’s info is printed on the reverse of the fabric.

But the labels that really get my goat are those we have had to learn to live with: Baby Boomers, Gen Ys, Gen Xs, Millenials, Grey Nomads—you get the picture. The last example I find particularly trite—demeaning even. The other day I was having a discussion with someone who was painting a word picture of the supposed great divide between the generations and why blame was laid; you know the sort of thing, it’s gone on forever. Anyway, I was quick to point out that I share being a Baby Boomer with Donald Trump. I pray to all that’s reasonable it’s the only thing we have in common.

Then of course we can get quite political. Do you vote green or are you a green or a greenie? Are you a communist, Tory, Trotskyist or fascist? Are you rich or poor? Old or young? Religion—ah yes, that elephant in the room. Are you gay or straight? Or don’t you fit into either category? Married or, perish the thought, a singleton, bachelor, a spinster—or much worse because it’s a real nothing word-cum-label—a bachelorette? And what about labelling things, illnesses perhaps, we can’t even see? Are you an addict? An epileptic? A coeliac? A diabetic? A haemophiliac?

None of these things are YOU, nor should they define you. Should we wish to label ourselves that’s fine by me. I, after all, am a white woman fast approaching her three score years and ten, but that’s surely it’s for me to decide if I want a sticker on me. It’s not for someone else to do.

In so many ways we celebrate our differences; everyone of my friends is different from another. Long may it last. We are all unique and yet we are all one. We are not some demographer’s superficial artificial construct.

On a lighter note, and here’s the rub as it shows how fickle I and my thoughts can be, a label I liked simply because it amused me and which, sadly, seems no longer to be in use, is: KIPPERS – Kids In Parents’ Pockets Eating Retirement Savings. An aside; I read that ‘kipper’ can (apart from simply being a smoked fish) mean all sorts of things—some unsuitable for a refined page such as this—and some as innocuous as describing one of those wide ties so fashionable in the 1970’s. What, I wonder, happened to ‘grockles’ which was used en famille to refer, gently rudely, to wrinklies, oldies etc? It probably relocated from Devonshire where it’s used in a derogatory fashion to describe tourists. Far too un-PC to use such phrases any more except among disrespectful friends and family. More power to them.

And another thing (thank you, Kathleen Noonan).

I read the other day of a person who gently chided a journalist for writing that someone had ‘committed suicide’. This is a hangover from pre-1961 UK, as opposed to the state of Victoria where the legislation changed in 1900, when people who ‘committed suicide’ (as others commit murder or a robbery) were deemed not fit to be buried on consecrated ground—for heaven’s sake (irony intended). A more fitting term might be that so-and-so took their own life or died by suicide. We, as a family, have known young people who took their own lives—far too many of them. We’ll never really know why they did so, but one presumes it was because life had become too awful and, in the end, was far less appealing than the finish of the suffering. I have yet to attend the funeral of someone of my age who took the suicide route.

By the way, just in case you were wondering: apparently the phrase ‘get my goat’ comes from the US. Some flighty racehorses need and like the calming influence of a special goat as company. In the past (only in the past?) unscrupulous ne’er-do-well race-fixers stole the goat to upset the horse and its race-running.

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Writers get together at writers’ get-together

Every month I attend a Meetup group called Shut Up and Write (or Edit). I was introduced to the group by my friend Janet Reid, she’s a published author who writes for children and young adults. The Meetup’s held at Northside Meetings and Letter Lounge Café & Gifts. You can find out more about the café here: https://www.facebook.com/northsidemeetings/ and here: http://northsidemeetings.com.au/ if you’re not a Facebooker.

In case you know young readers, Janet’s books are The Ruby Bottle and Granny Rags, published by IP Press (http://www.ipoz.biz/). She’s working on another one. Yay!

Judy Gregory, editor, group convenor and dinger-of-the-bell, runs a tight ship and we all sit—heads down, fingers skimming the keyboards—for three, twenty-five minute, stints. Food and drink—consistently good, interesting and varied—from the Letter Lounge is brought by competent staff downstairs to the large, airy meeting room.

On these occasions the room, Helvetica (all their private spaces are font-named), is filled with writers of all sorts. We have someone doing a PhD, researchers, novelists (probably the majority), journalists making the transition from their trade to other sorts of writing, and editors. I sit somewhere between two of the categories but attempt to use the time to write The Novel. Whoever thought you could bash one out in a few weeks has never—I venture to suggest—attempted to write one… Makes me mad when I read those ‘Write your book in 40 days’ things.

All the participants in this group are self-controlled. I need this. I’m not at all disciplined with my writing. I need a deadline to work towards and, because this is something I do for myself, have not been regimented enough to impose such strictures. I did reasonably well last year until something came along to bite me on the bum, then my flimsy structure collapsed. I no longer have an excuse and hope perhaps, by putting this out into the ether, I get enough encouragement from myself and my wonderful regular readers, to gee myself up again.

I love to write. I love the buzz of doing it. I love the feeling of satisfaction when a short story comes together. I love the feedback I receive (yes, even the more direct ones) from the writers’ group to which I belong. I have learnt so much since I joined the group. Interestingly, I was introduced to the group by Janet (see above). Writers and editors are, I have found, generous with sharing their knowledge and expertise.

There is a fantabulous group of editors on Facebook, the members of which solve the smallest to the largest of problems—and in record time. Maybe most creative people are the same. I know friends who paint and they are happy to share their knowledge. I’ve recently had cause to contact both a musician friend and an actor friend; they, too, have been extremely generous with their time and expertise (no egos here).

Isn’t it great that we have the opportunity to share our skills and knowledge to the betterment of us all.

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Old Habits Die Hard

Those of you kind enough to read my blog know I usually happily and willingly witter on about words and language, and you know how much it fascinates me. This article is along a similar vein, in that it deals—albeit briefly—with how we use language; how we grow up accepting things that, when given consideration, I believe need changing. It also touches on current events.

We have lost a number of young friends to suicide; so dreadful, such a shock, so irretrievably permanent. I read recently of a journalist who’d been gently corrected by someone for writing that a person had ‘committed suicide’. I read on with interest. The ‘committed’ bit is a remnant from days past when those who died by their own hand were buried outside consecrated ground; suicide was a crime. After all, murder is ‘committed’, a break-and-enter is ‘committed’, and so these poor souls—for whom life had become utterly intolerable—also ‘committed suicide’. Thank goodness we have changed our laws and views since those, quite recent, days.

I presume those folk think the world will be better off without them. How wrong, in all but a few cases (Hitler, for example), they are. They are missed, mourned and leave their loved ones behind with a welter of thoughts: could we have done anything to assist; what could we have done; at what point should we have realised…? Perhaps Chris Cornell’s death has brought about this introspection, who can say. So, next time you are about to say someone committed suicide, just pause for a second.

I cannot let this pass without addressing the lies the Islamist suicide bombers are fed. Do they really believe they will get to Paradise to be with those seventy-two virgins? And what happens to the women who are subjected to this dogma and who die for this appalling doctrine? Do they get their choice of virginal young men? Yeah, right. It horrifies me that with each atrocity committed (yes, committed) by these evil people, peace-loving, gentle, hospitable, people—just like you and me—are pilloried by those who consider all Muslims to be the same. What rot.

Then my thoughts took me to labels.

We talk of asthmatics, alcoholics, addicts of all sorts. We define these people by an affliction—not by who they are. I make a determined effort to talk of people who suffer from asthma, epilepsy, arthritis etc. and not to call them asthmatics, epileptics, arthritics. When it comes to substance abuse it’s harder, but I still dislike the labels we attach to those whom nature has made differently from those lucky ones like me who don’t ‘need’ stuff to get by. I do, though, have certain medications to assist with daily life. Does that make me more alike those addicted to nicotine, heroin, alcohol, speed etc, than I’d care to consider deeply?

Oh yes, and if you really want to challenge yourself, read Brit Bennett’s excellent, thought-provoking essay, http://jezebel.com/i-dont-know-what-to-do-with-good-white-people-1671201391. I cannot stop thinking about it.

Next post will, I hope, be more cheerful.

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