Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Back On The Road

It’s been a quieter week. Off the booze and knuckling down.

On Wednesday I had the opening chapters of what might become a novel workshopped. At the beginning of my course a couple of people asked me what being ‘workshopped’ meant and I glibly answered: “you give everyone copies of your work, they go away and read it for a week, come back and tell you why it’s shit.”

That’s not strictly true. With the possible exception of myself it’s a very talented group and there’s been no need to bandy the word ‘shit’ around. However, the process still feels a little like this.

Except, you know, there’s ten people yelling at you.

I find the process slightly addictive. It’s as though I need reassurance before I’m capable of finishing anything. With two lots of 5,000 words due in on Friday I’m submitting one piece I had workshopped in February (to which I’ve since made extensive changes) and another piece I’m having workshopped on Wednesday. This’ll give me less that forty-eight hours to do what I spent two months doing with the other piece.

Possibly not the greatest plan I’ve ever come up with.

Speaking of slightly daft plans…

Anyone who came to Beck’s show at the Slade last July will remember the Bristlecone Pine film and the shack-cinema it was shown in? Good. Well, it’s coming out again for a show in Margate opening this weekend.



At the end of the Slade show the shack was broken apart and after a brief holiday in an Edgware storage depot was swapped with Beck’s parent’s for a large chest of draws. Back in London the chest became completely wedged between the banisters, the bathroom door frame and the ceiling.

Look Ma, no hands.

We can add it to the reasons as to why we can’t move house. It’s not that the rent’s cheap, it’s that we can’t get the furniture back out again.

Beck shrugs and says: “When we next move we’ll do it properly and hire removal men.”


Nearly a year later that still makes me chuckle.

Anyway: the film has also been shown in an exhibition in Leeds where the organisers paid for and built, to Beck’s designs, an even bigger shack. I’m not sure how big, I never made it up to the show, but I do know it took Beck and her friend Fritha ten hours to dismantle it at the end of the show. Ever environmentally conscious Beck decided not to scrap the wood, but to store in her sister’s garage on the outskirts of Leeds.

“Which shack are you going to be using in Margate?” I asked.

“The big one.” I needn’t have bothered really.

So, Thursday we get up at five and drive the van Beck collected from the hire centre the night before whilst I listened to people constructively demolishing my writing. We get up to Leeds by eleven-thirty, spend a couple of hours arguing about the best way to fit the panels, slats and frames between the garage, house wall, neighbour’s fence and van. We eat some much needed lunch and then set off back down the M1 by just after two.

We split the driving so it isn’t too hardcore, but I’m still a little worried. There’s no metal panel between the van’s storage area and the seats. Arriving, frankly, unprepared we’ve just piled the wood up in the back with nothing to hold it in place.

“The weight will hold it, won’t it?” she says before we set off.
“Look. It won’t move, even with all my weight behind it.”

“No. Me neither.” I’m trying to remember how velocity works.

Just north of Nottingham some twat pulls out in front of us.

“Mind,” I unhelpfully say.

Beck brakes sharply. Everything behind us, all seventy-two cubic feet of ply board, jumps forward eighteen inches.


The impact with the back of the seats winds us both. Beck pulls off at the next services and we inspect the load with one eye on the empty police car across the way.

There isn’t really an alternative so we keep on going and hope for the best. Things seemed pretty good. The ten mile an hour traffic from Luton to the M25 was actually a blessing. Then a Dutch petroleum tanker carves me up on the orbital, just when I’d finally got past 60mph. I hit the brakes and brace myself.

Nothing happens. The load has obviously wedged itself into the upholstery permanently.

By the time we reach Margate it’s already gone eight, but fortunately there was a crew to help us unload.

I share a panel with one.

“Been a long day?”

“Oh, you know. Six-hundred miles, twenty hours. The things you do…”

“For love? Hmm.”

“I was going to say ‘for money’. I haven’t mentioned that to Beck yet.”

She looks at me blankly and I shut up.

We eat fish and chips on the beach. In the dark. Shoulder to shoulder. Behind us, in the breakwater’s car-park, a gaggle of teenagers settle themselves down for the night in a tour coach.

It wasn’t quite over us, though. The cheap van hire company who let you pop the keys through the letter box at the end of a day thus allowing twenty-four hour drop-off are, obviously, based in Kentish Town. North London. We have to swing by the house to grab the car because by now we’d be playing a bit fast and loose with the last train and neither of us can handle the idea of a night bus today. As we leave the A2 in Blackheath, at about eleven, I glance over at the display.

“How long’s the fuel light been on?”

“I have no idea,” she replies.

Since getting to Kentish Town involves driving through some areas of London that you really don’t want to break down in at midnight we waste even more time trying to find a petrol station still open. It’s only on the seventh attempt that we get lucky.

Twenty-four hour city my arse.

Of course, the fun thing about driving around in the small hours on a school night is that the traffic isn’t actually that bad. Sure, there’s still probably more cars around than the rest of the country put together but the chances of gridlock are significantly reduced. Plus, after driving the van all day, the Focus suddenly feels like a Ferrari.

No doubt the brown envelope informing me of a fixed penalty notice will arrive by the end of the week.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Just The One, Then.

So this is how it goes.

Friday. I’ve a long standing agreement to meet a friend for a couple of beers. We exchange texts during the afternoon confirming the details. The Lord Clyde in Borough, since you asked. It’s a good place if you’re ever in the area. Nice pint of Adnams. Then to the Royal Oak for a drop of Harvey’s Pale. He’s quite adamant though that it’ll only be a quick one; just to catch up. He’s got to be up early in the morning.

We’re meeting at six-thirty and suddenly it’s five-forty-five. I need to be off. I haven’t had anything to eat, but I think it’ll be fine. I’ll probably be home by nine. I can get some dinner then.

“It’s just a quick one and a catch up, after all.”

Beck gives me the raised eyebrow look that suggests she knows better than I do.

Because it’s never a quick one, is it? It starts off well enough, but suddenly I’m on the 1225 out of London Bridge pissed, quite frankly, as the proverbial fart.

I have a little sit down at Honor Oak Park station, preparing myself for the final stagger home. Once outside, in the now deserted street, I’m accosted by someone in a spot of trouble.

“Mate! Mate! Is this Crystal Palace?”

“Whur?” I manage.

“Am I in Crystal Palace?”

It takes me worrying length of time to process the question.

“Neh,” I eventually splutter. “Honor Oak. Palash is that-away.” My arm flaps unconvincingly.

“Is it a long walk?”

“Wulk?” I ponder this for a moment. Technically you could probably walk, but another idea occurs to me: “Neh. Bush. Bush from Forshest Hills.”


I rearrange my teeth.

“Forest Hill. Hey,” I have a sudden moment of lucidity. “Where are you from?”


“Thought so. Me too. Where abouts?”


“I’m from King’s Heath.” Somewhere a tiny part of my brain still sober is completely baffled by this pointless lie.

“Yeah, great,” he seems to be getting bored of me now. “So, how do I get to Forest Hill?”

In coherence chooses now to return.

“Hurgh,” now there’s a pretty good shortcut which’ll only take about ten minutes, but I think describing it may involve too many words than I can coherently piece together so instead I say: “Thish way. Right… Right onto Broccoli Rhish, right around into the Showlth Circh. Ten… Ten minutsh.” We start walking in the same direction. This is pretty simple, but possibly not the most direct and I suddenly remember an alternative.

“Wait!” I cry somewhat over-the-top. “Not thish way. The other woy. Devonshumthink. Devonland? Devonshure. Devonshure Road.” My finger waves in the opposite direction. “Ish quicker.”

“Thanks,” he says wandering off and not bothering to wait for a more detailed explanation.

I wonder if he made it okay.

Me? I managed to fall through the front door, made a completely unconvincing attempt to appear sober to Beck and went straight to bed.

My one eye opened slowly and strained to focus on the clock. It was 0712. I rolled out of bed and went to empty my straining bladder. Whilst my stomach deflated and I considered getting in the shower and that’s what I should have done. Instead, I thought “it’s Saturday” and went back to bed for a bit.

A couple of hours later I managed to get up a little bleary eyed, but not too bad. And then it hit me. As the water cascaded against my head the world swooshed upwards and may balance faltered, stomach churned and the deep crunch of brain cells was a bad, bad sign.

I finished washing, got dressed, decided that was enough and promptly got back into bed for a little rest.

Beck brought me some aspirin and after a while I hauled myself to my feet and went out for a paper and some desperately needed fresh air. It proved to be a false dawn and two mouthfuls of cereal defeated me. Back I trudged, up the stairs and to darkness for a little longer.

Finally I managed a banana, a cup of coffee and to watch some of the snooker on television without the light burning my eyes. Beck made some Greek salad and that went down surprisingly well.

So, it’s fine. I’m not dying after all.

Whilst hangovers at all, let alone ones of this magnitude are pretty rare these days it’s possibly just because I know the tricks to beat them rather than actually drinking less and on Friday I hadn’t followed the rules. Eating, that always helps. Drinking plenty of water. That’s a good one. Not going to be pub with Andy probably should be one.

A hang-over is, of course, your body telling you to slow down; take it a little steady. But at the moment they have further complications. I’ve a deadline coming up and Saturday morning was a write-off. I’ve yet to review the work I did manage in the afternoon, but I suspect it’ll be far from my finest prose.

“I’ve got to cut down,” I tell myself during a brief relapse. “I’m getting too old for this.”

And I’m right. You can count the days until I turn twenty-nine and at a time when a lot of my friends are getting themselves deliberately impregnated and buying houses and generally being adults, can I still be titing about in random boozers?

So, Saturday night we’re off to Madia Vale and Amy’s birthday party. You know those how-to-not-get-a-hang-over rules? Here’s another one to break.

“You know I think I’m beered out after last night. I’ll stick to red wine.”

Beck gives me another of those looks.

Suddenly it’s two in the morning. I’ve just woken up at the end of the number thirty-six bus route and there’s a worrying red tint to my vision.

“Whurg,” I panic. “Ofta da bush! Quirlk!”

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

No! It can't be! Surely not... Him!?!

I hadn’t been planning on commenting (sorry, blogging) on the London Mayor election because a) not everyone who reads this is from London; b) it’s pretty obvious which way I’m going to fall; c) people seem to find the weird ramblings of my internal monologue more entertaining, but it’s my page and I can say what I want to.

Outside of libel, obviously.

I’m getting worried, you see. I know that polls can’t be trusted (poor old Neil Kinnock must still internally cringe), but the race for the Mayor’s office is becoming dangerously tight. The position has only been back in existence since 2000 and to be honest in that and the 2004 election there was never any real threat to Ken Livingstone.

Red Ken, the uber-Londoner, hard-line lefty, passionate newt farmer, former leader of the old GLC and self-styled scourge of Maggie Thatcher. He was always going to romp home either as an independent or back inside the Labour fold because, well, he’s Ken and none of the others stood a chance.

Frank Dobson, indeed.

But now, somehow - God only knows how - we’ve gotten ourselves into a situation where not only is there a challenger (which is actually a good thing) but it’s this idiot:

Boris bloody Johnson. I’m struggling with the fact that Johnson is actually being taken seriously in this election, but even worse people, normal liberal minded people, are starting to talk as though he’s already won.

Okay. Let’s clarify something before we go any further. I won’t be voting for Boris, but I’ve also never voted for Ken either. I didn’t live in London in 2000 and in 2004 my first choice was the Green candidate, Darren Johnson (I can’t remember who I voted for as my second preference, but I think it was the IWCA candidate.) I think Ken’s leadership of the city has some serious problems - most notably a severe case of cronyism at the GLA. There’s also been a resurgence of the complaints from the eighties that Ken’s policies are all about making Ken look good. I’ve made a couple of not very well disguised suggestions before that he may, possibly, have gone power-mad, but on the whole I think he’s done a good job. Perhaps some new blood would be a good thing, but (please God) not this man.

I remember seeing Johnson some years ago on Have I Got News For You and thinking “what an idiot”. And this is one of the important things that people forget: we’re all laughing at him, not with him when he makes a loveable-buffoon-like appearance on the telly.

“Oh, look. It’s only Boris Johnson. What comically ludicrous, yet totally unacceptable thing for a politician, is going to say today?”

My problem isn’t so much with his policies (although I disagree with a lot of those too), but rather the person behind them.

Oh, all right. Lets have a quick look at the policies shall we?

Crime: This is the big one for Boris and yes, he’s right. Twenty-seven teenagers were killed on the streets of London in 2007; twelve so far this year. Gang-culture and the ridiculous post-code wars need to end. How do you do that? I don’t know, but I’d look at cracking down on drugs, knives and guns being bought into the city and then trying to improve the livelihoods of those on the poorest estates who are most likely to get caught up this.

Boris’ answer? Put four hundred and forty extra policemen on the buses. Now, I don’t know about everyone else but generally speaking I don’t feel that threatened on the bus. I know that people have been killed on the bus (for example Billy Ward on the N159 in Croydon last year or Richard Whelan on the 43 in Islington in 2005), but there are more dangerous places in the city. Buses are well lit, there’s generally other people about. For most people I know who have been mugged (including myself), it’s happened in that dark little alley near your house that you’ve nipped down loads of times and nothings ever happened.

The places you feel comfortable.

He’s right in principle, although every single other candidate recognises this too, but I don’t see any solutions in his policies.

Transport: Looking at Boris’ website the four hundred and forty police for the buses also crop up in this section. I don’t know why - are they supposed to be driving the buses too?

He’ll also scrap the bendy-buses and then launch a competition to design a new route master for the twenty-first century. A plan he’s quoted as costing £8,000,000 and which industry experts value at £114,000,000. Slight difference there. Now, again this is just personal experience, but as much as I liked the old route masters and, yes, they were iconic, they were also fucking ancient. I lost count of the number of times I had to bale out of a broken down 36 in Camberwell.

Plus, when Beck lived out the front of the New Cross bus garage the three hours they spent warming up made the glass in all the windows vibrate. At four in the morning it sounded like a small earthquake. You couldn’t stall the thing; if the driver took his foot off the accelerator they stopped and wouldn’t start again. I don’t have a problem with bendy-buses.

The train and the tube system needs overhauling, apparently. Again - does it? The only way I can see to make the system run better is take some of the people out. I think in the time I’ve been living in London it’s gotten better. Certainly on the overland out of darkest SE4. When I first moved down the trains were guaranteed to be at least twenty minutes delayed, over-crowded or simply cancelled. But back in 2001 Connex had their licence to operate the system revoked and the new company Southern does a good enough job.

When I worked in Highbury my commute involved the overland, the Northern Line and the Victoria Line. In three and a half years I can remember being late once. The Northern Line runs every 2-5 minutes - can you really, safely, fit an extra service in? Now later running trains I would support, but there’s no mention of that from Boris.

Of course it’s worth remember that whilst Boris prats about on his bike pretending to be eco-friendly he was also the motoring correspondent for GQ magazine and, I suspect, gets a bit of a sexual thrill out of Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

No real surprise, then, that he’s planning on reforming (scrapping?) the congestion charge. Again, sorry but I think the c-charge works - and I’m a driver. Let’s remember that it only really covers a very small area and only operates Monday-Friday seven till six. You can even drive right through the middle on a special free route (no, I didn’t know that either until checking the operating hours today). It covers an area with the greatest concentration of tube stations and pedestrians in the whole city. There are plenty of reasons as to why you don’t need to drive into the west end - and if you do, and I have done, it works brilliantly. There’s no-one about.

I also don’t think that it causes problems around the perimeter either. If you’re saying it does then you might as well start blaming the snails pace of the south circular on it, or the inevitable three mile queue to get through the Blackwell Tunnel every morning and evening.

Besides traffic has generally got worse around the whole country in the past few years. A few years ago it typically took two hours five minutes to drive from Brockley to Birmingham. Now it usually takes two hours thirty, two hours forty and I’m as likely to get stuck on the M40 outside High Wycombe as to spend ten minutes crossing Vauxhall Bridge.

Okay, for those living inside the zone it can be a bit pricey, but, come on, if you can afford the £1,385 monthly rent on a one bed flat in Chelsea or £1,560 for the same in the Barbican AND you own a car which for some reason you have to drive to work because you’re allergic to the other people on the bus then, frankly, my sympathy is limited.

The Environment: Suddenly Boris has come over all green and world caring. He wants low emission zones introduced (sorry, Boris, it already covers ninety-five percent of London) and he wants to protect our parks and promote recycling.

This is blatant electioneering. This is a man who’s publicly opposed the Kyoto agreement (“when Bush says no, he’s doing what’s right not just for America, but for the world” Lend Me Your Ears p318) supports Nuclear power over renewable energy sources (“we need an alternative and one that doesn’t just involve crucifying our landscape with wind farms.” Have I Got Views For You p83) and has voiced the odd doubt as to the existence of climate change at all!

Housing: This one’s too easy. His website says “we need to work in partnership with councils to increase the number of affordable homes.” In one of his own books he says “how can you stop the market from asserting itself, as it always will, and tempting the owners to eventually achieve the real value of their property?” (Friends, Voters, Countrymen p74) In other words, affordable housing? Waste of time.

Poking fun at Boris’ policies is quite fun, but it doesn’t get to the real problem. The policies are, of course, not actually written by Boris - and neither are Ken’s or Brian Paddick’s (err, written by themselves, that is, not by Boris; that’d be too strange) - but by nameless drones in party central office. Boris’ job is to stand up there and appear slightly comical.

Here’s the real problem guys. It’s not what he’s saying now, but what he’s said in the past. When he hasn’t been so guarded, when he’s been a little more candid. When the real Boris has come out.

Let’s just quickly tackle his claims to be working class (have you heard him?). Okay, so his grandfather may have been an immigrant from Turkey, escaping the 1919 revolution, but last time I looked Ataturk was in support of the people and it was the aristocrats who were running for it. How can an Eton and Oxford educated, member of the Baliol crème-de-la-crème toff drinking club possible relate to a city the biggest problem for which is, arguably, a massive disproportion in the distribution of wealth? How is someone who managed to get his own name wrong on national television supposed to grasp that?

How can the leader of a multi-cultural city with international standing like London have said some of this stuff?

“It was mesmerising… to stand in Baghdad and look at the contrast between the Americans and the people they had liberated. The Iraqis were skinny and dark, badly dressed and fed. The Americans were…taller and squarer than the indigenous people, with heavier chins and better definition. They looked like a master race…” (Lend Me Your Ears p1)

“Whenever George Dubya Bush appears on television…I find a cheer rising irresistibly in my throat. Yo Bush baby, I find myself saying…just you tell all those pointy-eared liberals where to get off.” (Have I Got Views For You p260)

“[Lib-Dem’s are] a minority that possess a characteristic human psychological deformity.” That’ll be ideal for working within a mixed GLA then. (Have I Got Views For You p90)

“Both the minimum wage and the Social Charter would palpably destroy jobs.” (Lend Me Your Ears p104)

“[the welfare state’s] excessive disbursements that warp honest people.” That’s everyone on benefits joining the Lib-Dems then. (Lend Me Your Ears p412)

“It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving picaninnies; and one can imagine that Blair…is similarly seduced by foreign politeness. They say he’s shortly off to the Congo. No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop the hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will break out the watermelon smiles to see the big white chief.” (The Daily Telegraph 10/01/2002)

I’m sorry. How does he get away with that? Not once, but twice:

[In Uganda looking at Unicef work he turns to the Swedish staff and their black driver and says:] “Right, lets go and look at some more picaninnies.” (The Observer 05/10/2003)

Let’s not stop there, though. Let’s see what he thinks of South Africa:

“The minority tyranny of apartheid would be followed by the majority tyranny of black rule.” (Lend Me Your Ears p464)

“The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge anymore… the best fate for Africa would be if the colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.” (The Spectator 02/02/2002)

And China?

“Chinese cultural influence is virtually nil, and unlikely to increase.” (Have I Got Views For You p277)

“A sweet faced Chinese air stewardess [is] standing over me… ‘Oh!’ said the stewardess flummoxed, ‘velly solly.” (The Spectator 04/01/2003)

And finally: “Labour’s appalling agenda encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools.” That one doesn’t even make sense. (The Daily Telegraph 03/08/2000)

Let’s not forget he’s also had a pop at New Guinea, the Dutch, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, the Koran and the EU and conspired with an old school chum and convicted fraudster to have a journalist beaten up.

There’s three possible outcomes if you elect Johnson.
1) Not a lot happens. He gets elected and runs the city rather boringly. (Personally I don’t see this happening, but I have to concede it is a remote possibility.)
2) He really is a complete and utter idiot. It’s not an act to make him more endearing. The world laughs at London until Bolton, Mexico and Denmark form an alliance after a typical Johnson tirade and declare war on us.
3) It’s all an act and then the stuff that’s accidentally slipped out is allowed to come to the fore. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath he’s even more right-wing than anyone imagined.

Actually, that final option sounds vaguely familiar. Slightly comical, right-winger is elected in the spirit of change and a ’he can’t really be that bad, can he?’ Now, when was it?

Oh, yeah. Germany, 1933.

Not that for a single second I’m comparing Boris Johnson to Hitler or anything…

Small Print:
All Johnson quotes taken from the Compass Publication ‘Boris Johnson - A Member of The Hard Tory Right’ and referenced as there. You can download the complete document here:

Johnson’s appearances on ‘Have I Got News For You’ can mainly be found on YouTube including the moments when he gets his own name wrong and discusses conspiring to have a journalist put in hospital. Follow this link:

Johnson’s policy details were lifted from his own website:

In the interest of fairness here’s Ken Livingstone’s website:

Here’s Brian Paddick for the Liberal Democrats:

And Sian Berry for the Greens:

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Four Is Not Enough

You know how it is: the night before the morning after, you’ve been up too late nattering and drinking (and in my particular case breaking picture frames with your arse). In some cases your vision hasn’t quite returned and it’s still an hour or so until some idiot suggests plunging into the Buckinghamshire countryside in search of semi-imaginary woods. But at this moment you have strong coffee and a heart attack inducing breakfast sandwich and you’re flicking through the paper and everything’s pretty good.

Then you stumble across this twonk:


A smart-alec sitting with his feet up telling us all how we work too much. How we’d all be happier if we just (bought his book) cut back on work. Just did the essentials. He suggests (buying his book) just checking your email a couple of times a day; only answering the phone if it’s a recognised number and then being brusk (“I’m busy selling books, what do you want?”) and focus on a single task each day.

Tim Ferris feels that there’s no need to work more than four hours a week.

I’m sure this is dead-easy if you’re self-employed as the managing-director of a on-line vitamins company (whatever the hell that is) but for the rest of us, in the real world, it’s kind of impossible. To simply cut-out unpaid overtime, to pare down to the essentials - everything’s essential to someone - and to ‘negotiate’ the right to work from home.

I’m sure working from your spare room’s a doodle for ambulance drivers or coppers or engineers involved in the implementation of new road layouts. Picking three of my friends there, not randomly at all, but helpfully making a point.

I also suspect that somewhere in India there’s a half dozen poor sods working twelve hour days for £1.21, doing everything Mr Ferris has delegated downwards.

Here’s the interesting question though: We do, generally, probably, all work a bit too hard. Our leisure time is important and what we do with that time, whether we sit drooling in front of flickering images with the lights down low or whether we find ways in which to improve our body and mind depends on how knackered from work we are. I, personally, find the latter more deeply relaxing. If I’ve, for example, spent the weekend hiking then on the Monday I’ll be more productive.

But instead I tend to spend my time getting wound up by newspaper articles and writing this sort of thing.

The work-life balance is important. To suggest, as the article seems to me to do so, that work is a curse is, frankly, crap. I know plenty of people who work hard because they love it, they’ve trained hard to get there and they’re ambitious to do more. They still find time for friends and the rest of life even working fifty hours a week. I don’t necessarily mean the Beck-type-model of people who have incredible passion for their career of choice, but rather that most people want to feel useful, they want to feel as though they’re contributing something to society, they want to feel as though they’ve earned the things they buy.

(Feel free to disagree.)

There are, of course, exceptions. I know a few of them too. There are those who prefer to sit around eating wotsits and sponging off wealthy parents or turn up to over-paid jobs and put in the bare minimum. But I genuinely feel that most people want to work - if not in the job they’re actually doing at the moment. Why do you think levels of depression are so high amongst the long-term unemployed? It’s not just worries over money; it’s boredom.

Working long hours can be a means to an end. It can - occasionally, but regrettably not very often - mark you out to your superiors. It can get the job finished which enables to relax more at home. In my case it brought financial benefits. I’ve never been paid for overtime (well, not as a sales-rep anyway), but the theory ran that the longer hours I put in the more sales I was likely to make and consequently the more commission I’d bring in. So I’d get up at four-thirty and drive to Manchester not only because I was being paid to do a job, so I’d do it to the best of my ability, but because if I made enough sales I could go on holiday.

At some point.

The French, a few years ago, considered shortening the working week to four days. The reasoning was that the service-based economy would benefit from people having more leisure time and people would be more productive in the time they did spend in the office because they’d be more relaxed.

This was a stupid idea for two reason. Firstly it’d be virtually impossible to persuade private business to pay the same wages for twenty percent less work, even if the government hiked the minimum wage up. So spare cash to be spent in cafes or on the bowls green or down the winery or visiting the Eiffel Tower (struggling to think of typical French leisure activities and have descended into spiteful mockery here. Oh, well). Also, how were all the poor souls working in the service-economy going to work less days? Not exactly the spirit of fraternity there, guys.

I think it comes down to quality rather than quantity, for both work and leisure, but I’m happier putting the hours in at work and spending my free time doing something exciting.

Besides, what else would you do with the extra thirty-one hours? Other than write a smug self-help book, obviously.

(David yawns and stretches out his fingers. He saves the document and then wanders downstairs to watch Bargain Hunt.)

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Searching for Meaning

Is it just me or has everyone else always wanted to do this?

The evolution of language is an organic process. New words are invented either for concepts that suddenly require definition, or new machines or just new words for old things. You can hear it happening around you, but am I the only one who’s really wanted to force through a new word or phrase either because a) it’s funny; b) the world needs it; c) your ego’s running out of control and you really want to hear someone say it back to you and go ‘yes, that’s my fault.’

I once read a story (here’s that memory failing again - can’t remember who by, or what it was called) where the protagonist had to answer the question ‘what is a quiz?’. The answer was found in a bottle of whisky. Two Irishmen, drunk and competitive, one bets the other a sizable amount that he can introduce a new word into the English language before the end of the month. He pays street urchins (we’ve meandered into some Dickensian landscape here, by the way) to write, in chalk, ‘quiz’ around the city. They start off sporadically and then increase in frequency and volume as the month progresses. Shortly before the deadline it’s everywhere, scrawled across every conceivable surface - walls, bins, carriages, doors, dogs. The whole population is discussing the new word (and what it might mean) and man wins his bet.

Complete and utter bollocks, of course. The original question doesn’t even make grammatical sense and how would a word implying mystery morph into something tending to involve questions and competition. But then again: my OED tells me that the origin of ‘quiz’ is unknown. So maybe.

Sticking with the OED for a moment the number of new words being introduced to the dictionary is incredible. The OED online has quarterly updates; that’s how fast things change. Recent additions include girlcott (a politically correct alternative to boycott, or a deliberate avoidance performed by females), Godzone (a New Zealand take on the American idea of God’s Own Country) and attrit (“to weaken or wear down by means of an unrelenting military offensive.”).

Equally fun is the online Urban Dictionary which doesn’t wait for such dull things as ‘common-use’, but just chucks new words out there. A couple of my favourites are acoustic shave (wet shaving, rather than using an electric razor), slacktivism (“the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem” - something Beck is a master at.), or twitterpated (“to be completely enamoured with someone/something).

There’s nothing new in this rate of language expansion. It’s always been this way. The dubious power of the internet suggests that Shakespeare introduced over 20,000 new words to the language.

Not too sure on the accuracy of that statistic, but in reading or listening to the plays it’s staggering how many commonly used phrases are to be found there. From (purely off the top of my head) ‘alls well that ends well’, to ‘all the world’s a stage’. ‘This mortal coil’, ‘winter of discontent’. My personal favourite: ‘exit, perused by a bear’.

Okay, so perhaps that last one isn’t that common.

And it can all go wrong. Words which in the moment seem monumental, completely immersed in society and destined to become a integral part of the language simply disappear overnight.

Cowabunga, indeed.

One of the fellow writers on my course takes great pleasure in inserting made-up words into her stories and seeing if anyone notices. Or indeed if it even matters.

So, I’ve been trying to invent some new words or phrases of my own to see if I can thrown them out into the wider world. (Well, when I say ‘trying to invent’ I mean a bit of my brain’s been mulling it over whilst the rest has been writing the above.)

Slumberburn - the act of getting too much sleep following a period of sleeplessness leaving the person even more exhausted and mind-fuggled than before.

Mind-fuggled - don’t know what it means; just thought of it in the previous sentence. I’m guessing, confused or something similar. A cloudy brain day.

Dartdicted - suffering from isolating from oneself from the rest of humanity in order to complete a large task (say, writing a book), but failing through lack of application. Originally derived from compulsive playing of darts instead of working on said large task.

Yuckspeak - either spoken or written (usually in blog format) where the protagonist reveals far too much about their personal life/habits for the listener/reader to be comfortable.

Blogobarney - The fallout from a blog whereupon Yuckspeak has been used and the writer’s partner has read it and been far from impressed.

Not that any of these are based on personal experience.

Anyway, clearly I’m not very good at this. Feel free to post your own ideas below.

There is, however, a phrase I want to try and get out into everyday use. I didn’t invent this (more is the pity) I’m just quite blatantly pinching it from Radio 4’s The Now Show, broadcast on Friday the 28th of March 2008 at 1830 hours.

Heather Mills Syndrome.

The more you talk the less sense you make.

Or, basically, you’re full of crap. Talking rubbish, whatever context you want to shoe-horn it into. It’s funny, quite snappy and gives you an insult to dish out when you want to say ‘look just stop talking, okay?’

Poor old Heather. She’s the target du jour; the most obvious divorcee for the nations comics to poke fun at.

I’m sure she’ll feel much happier with her measly £24.3 million payout if she’s helping contribute to the future of English.


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