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Stray Thoughts Archive


No. 19 - From Cambrensis issue 65, November, 2005

* Language does evolve. Sometimes it's hard to know whether you're pedantically arguing for an obsolete point or trying to be correct. The distinction between practice (noun) and practise (verb), for instance, seems to be fast heading toward the exit. And Arthur's shew is legendary. But I hope that I'll never be forced to eat apostrophes with my egg's.

* Still, I wouldn't go as far as David Lucas, who in a spleen-venting letter to the Daily Telegraph condemns election hoardings that ask 'Who do you want to run the country?', saying that he'd like someone educated enough to write 'Whom do you want to run the country?'

* Have you noticed how quiz question-setters can't distinguish between 'General Knowledge' and 'Pop Culture' any longer? Could it be that they think that Jade Temple's affair with Soapy Flannel SHOULD be general knowledge?

* Phil Tufnell makes the ideal 'face' for the TV advertisements of the Yuvegottapayitbaksukka Loan Company. Phil was one of cricket's characters and a decent spin bowler, too. My abiding image of him (from imagination, not memory) is of his missing a catch on the boundary because he was re-lighting a fag. But would I go to him for financial advice?

* So, Charlotte Church and Gavin Henson are the new Posh and Becks? Ouch!


* An article by Timothy Kenny in the Los Angeles Times bemoans the increase of the British idiom in American media. Many of us here despair at the growing prevalence of Americana. Still, there's always going to be some cross-pollination, especially since we (almost) share a language. I'm just glad to hear that the influence isn't all one way.

* I'm sorry to keep picking on Tessa Jowell but she deserves it when she champions daft and expensive ideas like having 400 'competition managers' to organise leagues for naturally competitive schoolchildren. Much more sensible (and I'm not joking) was the proposal of the Monster Raving Loony Party to turn over to school competitive sport the back garden of any MP whose constituency sells off a school playing field.

* On the cover of a June Radio Times, Jerry Springer is quoted as saying that British TV 'is ten years behind American'. It is. Fortunately. But it's catching up fast. Unfortunately.

* The supermarkets have persuaded the OFT to end the arrangements that ensure the survival of small news retailers. Coming soon, a more limited selection of publications available only from the big retailers. Coming soon, a newsagent near you will be boarded up. Fair trading?

* The other day I received some leaflets from IFAW through the post. They called themselves a charity, but the stuff was virtually indistinguishable from junk mail I'd seen previously with a free prize draw and lines like 'free guaranteed income for life'. The only indication that it might have had anything to do with animal welfare were a few pictures of baby seals and the like. Now I don't know if they are a genuine charity or not, but were they appealing to my sentimentality or my greed?

* Carolyn Hitt, in the WM, draws attention to the Vodaphone Simplicity phone. It has no camera, blue-toothed frogs, games, or graphics. It just makes calls. Revolutionary! Will it catch on?

* Jean-Paul Sarte has had a cigarette (he was a 40-a-day man) in a 1946 photograph airbrushed out for a poster marking the centenary of his birth. I've said it before and I'll say it again: you can't change history, folks.

No. 20 - From Cambrensis issue 66, March, 2006

* Ian Foulkes, head of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, quoted in The Guardian, says of the illiberal mess that is the Government's proposed anti-smoking legislation: 'It's the equivalent of a peeing and non-peeing area in a swimming pool'.

* Pembrokeshire farmers are trying to expunge the expression 'couch potato' from dictionaries because it gives an unfavourable impression of this staple vegetable. Now, I always thought that the expression was meant to give an image of the likely shape of TV watchers rather than cast dietary aspersions on the vegetable, but dictionaries are meant to reflect usage, not to assist marketing.

* Definition of a 'celeb': 'Anyone who may be known to the public. This can be in a very minor and fleeting way in the entertainment industry, but should be more substantial elsewhere'.

* There's a certain irony in pop stars with millions in the bank leading the 'Make Poverty History' campaign. But Gordon Brown is right: this is the moral campaign of our times.

* In answer to the usual 'the innocent have nothing to hide' defence of ID Cards (how that is a justification for having them?) Muriel Gray in The Guardian says 'The innocent have much to hide. It's called a private life.' Just wait until commercial enterprises start to get hold of and use the data. They are sure to do this as the Government seeks to recoup the enormous costs of this project.

* Megan Robertson says that Robert Nisbet's joyful experience with WORDTM mentioned in the Stray Thoughts of last June reminded her of keying an order of service for a funeral. When 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind' was typed, the computer helpfully came back with 'It looks like you're trying to write a letter.'


* Writing to the Daily Telegraph, Roger Wilding recalls an appearance of Robin Cook on BBC Question Time. David Dimbleby asked: 'What do you think, Mr. Cock?' Cook replied: 'Well, Mr. Bumblebee ...' Wit as well as integrity are qualities unusual in a politician. We'll miss them.

* Has the Tory party become a training school for TV presenters? We've seen William Hague, Portaloo, and Ann Widdecombe regaling us. I can't wait for Michael Howard to make his debut.

* I get my share of junk e-mails, including some in foreign languages. One, from somebody calling himself John Rey, was headed 'Leverage your future'. What language was that?

* Victoria Beckham says she never reads a book. This must include her own. I'm with her there.

* So, David Blunkett has resigned, again. I wouldn't give odds against him hovering near office, again, by the time you read this. Political resignations, like political principles, have a short shelf.

* Cartoon: exasperated man trying to cope with a touch phone telephone service. The phone recording says 'Press nine to admit defeat'.

* So, Murray Field is to replace Henman's Hill, is it? After the defeat of Tim Henman and the victory of Andrew Murray in Wimbledon's second round, John Lloyd actually said 'the King is dead. Long live the King'. I know that stars in the sporting firmament fade and rise quickly, but this was a bit premature, don't you think?

* Still on a sporting theme, what was Alastair Campbell doing with the £9m English Lions?

* But for the sporting event of 2005, click HERE.

* And why Portaloo on the Nelson programme? No historians free?

No. 21 - From Cambrensis issue 67, June, 2006

* Ten years ago HIGNFY was sharp and satirical. Now with hosts like Bruce Forsyth and Joan Collins, guests like Michael Winner, and cheap jibes like the one at bus-riding Derby residents, it's going down the pan with increasing velocity. If Ian Hislop and Paul Merton have any integrity and pride left, they should jump ship soon.

* Dominique Spearey draws my attention to the book The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester. Among other things, this tells us that the letter 'S' has more entries in the OED than any other letter, and that 'SET' has more definitions than any other word.

* Writing in The Guardian of Carol Thatcher's appearance on I'm a Celebrity ..., Mark Lawson says that 'In this country the rather lost and dotty child of a former leader eats slugs in a reality TV show. In America he becomes president.'

* Robert Nisbet reminds us that the abuse of the word literally is long-standing. He remembers how, in the 1960s, a colleague in a new comprehensive school told him of how a difficult class, if given an inch, would 'literally eat you alive'. Even so, he says, it was disappointing to hear Katherine Jenkins telling an interviewer that the response to her new CD had left her 'literally gobsmacked'.


* George Galloway? Well, that's show business. Pity he's supposed to be a politician.

* People sent e-mails etc. to BBC News 24 saying what they'd do if they won a £105m rollover lottery jackpot. I liked best the one that said: 'I'd put it on a horse'.

* The London Planetarium is to make way for a voyage 'around the worlds of fame and celebrity'. There will be a different kind of stargazing in Baker Street soon.

* Dick Cheney said after shooting Harry 'Target' Whittington that Harry was blameless.

* Kerry Packer had a state funeral in all but name. It was attended by the Prime Minister, Richie Benaud, and others. Why? Not because he 'turned the world of cricket on its head'. The sport would have realised what century we were in eventually. Could it be because he was Australia's richest man?

* Adam Crozier and John Reid must have gone to the same school for slippery statisticians. They showed equal delight in saying 'only point-nought-nought-something' letters are stolen or soldiers in Iraq thump the civilians. They don't point out that these figures relate to reported cases. We'd all like to think that the military figures are not much higher than this. But, as for Postman Pat...?

* Picture this: paying back £42,000 on a loan of £25,000. At least this company has the decency to put their exorbitant lending rates up front. The other usurers that plague the satellite TV channels make it sound so very cosy and warm to 'consolidate your debt'.

* Wayne Rooney has signed a £5m + royalties deal with Harper Collins. Thought you'd like that.

* Alan Bird wrote to The Times recounting a story from 1914. The duty Reuters man in the London Office received a telegram from Paris saying 'ARCHEDUC ASSASINE SARAJEVO'. He'd been expecting the racing results from Longchamps and spiked it, grumbling that all three placed horses were French.


* And John Halton wrote to The Guardian about the time that Richard Brinsley Sheridan, asked to apologise for calling a fellow MP a liar, replied: 'Mr. Speaker, I said that the honourable member is a liar and I am sorry for it. The honourable member may put the punctuation where he pleases'.

* Aren't the 'Morning Serial' extracts in the Western Mail so short as to be absolutely pointless? Do they have so little faith in our attention spans?

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