December 2014

Oh Danny Boy, we all love you

A whole hour … and just one song. But what a song.

Absolutely fascinating viewing from BBC Four with the screening of Danny Boy: the song that bewitched the world.

There was not a minute of boredom or padding in this wide-ranging analysis of Danny Boy, its beginnings, its history, its performers and, above all, its meaning.

How could a single song of a mere three verses demand so much time and attention from so many experts and luminaries across the spectrum of the arts? Watch it and discover – and learn.

One wonders how many of today’s fleeting hit parade contenders would ever justify such attention.

Through balladeers, rockers, country and western singers, Elvis, jazz, blues, Johnny Cash and even rappers the seemingly simple air has remained virtually  indestructible since Fred Weatherley purloined his sister-in-law’s melody as a long-sought match for his words more than a century ago.

There are so many interpretations to this enduring marriage of words and music and none of them have managed to undermine, mar or diminish the original.

Indeed, the pipes are calling … and continue to call down the decades.

A runner’s year …

Not quite the full picture as I didn’t start using Strava until a couple of months in … and then things didn’t always upload.

But this is a useful yardstick for 2015.

And, after all, 2014 was a year of several  chuff-making achievements, including retaining a national title, running for England and in the top 10 UK rankings for several distances. Plus running “just one more” marathon.


Is there anyone out there?

Time and again we read reports of the decomposing body of some poor soul being discovered in the house where they have lived for ever and a day.

Shock, horror. “How could this happen in this modern day and age?” goes the cry.

Why the surprised reaction? Rather than express shock that such events could ever occur we should be treating them as the norm; they are becoming an almost daily occurrence.

And I see why. As a solitary soul, happy in his own company, there are many periods when I have scant contact on a personal basis with other human beings – certainly not within my own domain. There are no neighbours knocking on the door for whatever reason; there are no friends dropping in for a chat, coffee or a glass of vino. The postman needing a signature on a package can be my sole contact with the outside world.

My realm is that state of mind and body known as “splendid isolation.” Which suits me fine.

But what if, as one of advancing years whose many contemporaries are now resting six feet under, I was to suffer one of those “attacks” that can occur so suddenly?  I have been close to, and  sharply aware of, numerous such events in recent times. And they are becoming ever more frequent.

What, I wonder, if I was to succumb to such an event?  It would require immediate, urgent, knowledgeable action … or else.

Yet it could be hours, days even, before anyone was aware that I was not up and about as usual. The newsagent might notice I hadn’t been in for my daily paper – but would think I’d gone away for a while rather than permanently. Who else? Contact with friends and relatives these days is predominantly by email and Facebook.  A day without a post or a message would not be unusual – there can be weeks between  such communications.

In common with the majority of the populace, I have many Facebook “friends” but true friends are few.

We have long lost the personal touch. Never off the phone, ceaselessly sending texts, iPads and iPhones our constant companions, so busy, so many contacts … and yet it is all at arm’s length. We are hired, fired, congratulated, commiserated, engaged, divorced, befriended, unfriended, cheered and chided, slandered, praised and variously ordered and informed by remote electronic means.

Not a touch, a smile, a wink, a caress, a grimace, laugh or semblance of humanity intervenes. Never have we been so much in touch with those around us, and around the world.

And yet we never speak to our neighbours, or even to our so-called friends. Or knock on their door.

So be not surprised that if you do happen to knock, there is no answer. Your call came too late.






Apropos posting an apostrophe

The question for today (and unfortunately almost every working day) is: how can a person progress through the education system to degree level and beyond and still not know how to use an apostrophe?

This query has been provoked by tackling an enthralling and extremely well-researched biography focussing on a major player in a major event in Australia’s recent history.

After normal school, its author went on to college, graduated, did further studies, won two scholarships and achieved a postgraduate diploma as well as a couple of academic awards.

Later there were stints as a teacher at TAFE colleges, further awards and yet more university study culminating in graduating with a Master of Arts degree.

And yet the mysteries of the apostrophe remain, as indicated on almost every page of the manuscript now being edited.

What is so difficult about determining the difference between a plural and an apostrophe? Why is such a basic aspect of the English language not drilled home from the start of learning?  Maybe it is because the teachers are as ignorant as those they are paid to teach, for this knowledge gap is nothing new.

Some tend to brush it aside as unimportant, unnecessary. But is essential to comprehension.  There is, for example, a difference between the doctor’s patients and the doctors’ patients. Extend this phrase and the dilemma increases when needing to define whether we are talking about the doctor’s patient’s prescriptions or the doctor’s patients’ prescriptions or even the doctors’ patients’ prescriptions. In every instance the apostrophe is needed to ascertain precisely what is being referred to.

My author, like so many, tends simply to scatter apostrophes like buckshot, letting them rest where they fall on the page. In one line we may get the ship’s captain and in the next it becomes the ships’ captain. The true horror comes when an each-way bet is plumped for with the ship’s’ captain.

The people who commit these grammatical crimes are not brain-dead simpletons but “educated” products of our schools and universities. How did this happen? Why is it allowed to continue.

Teachers, get back to basics – but, first, perhaps do some learning on your own account.





Escaping the “joys” of Christmas

A disclaimer: I was not the anonymous author of a submission to Sunday Telegraph agony aunt Graham Norton seeking the answer, other than hibernation, to coping with Christmas. But I might well have been. Every word of “Anon” rang clear.

He/she admitted actively loathing this time of year in every way – “the food, the forced jollity, the parties,  the weather.” Yet, like me, “Anon” would not admit to being depressed – certainly not in the way this condition is so often referred to these days. We are simply “grumpy and excluded.”

In words that I could well have written – and have certainly voiced – we do not like to spoil the fun of people around us and, somewhat reluctantly, go along with the whole “festive” thing in a half-hearted fashion.

But my sympathies are with “Anon” who just wishes they were on a beach somewhere, although that tends to be a somewhat impractical solution.

Agony aunt Norton has no real solution to our grumpy mood other than suggesting we opt out of all the merriment by claiming we have to be somewhere else whereas we are actually sat at home on the couch, watching the telly in our own sweet time.

At least he admits he has his own doubts … “I’m not sure when the celebration of the birth of Christ turned into large groups of drunken men in black urinating in the street, but there must be somewhere in between.”

Indeed, if only we could find it among all the blandishments to buy expensive (mostly) electronic toys and gifts or, Heaven forbid, to give Mum an ironing board for Chrissy.

This year’s solution is to escape to a self-catering rural hideaway on the edge of Dartmoor. Normal service will be resumed after five nights of Christmas solitude.


Tortured by the language terrorists

Oh the terrible things the bureaucrats and politicians do to the English language.

They are now talking of “enhanced interrogation”. Which is what the rest of us call “torture”.

Such pussy-footing around with words shows how scared they are of calling a spade a spade.


How many pages in a chapter?

The message used to be, keep it simple. Now perhaps we should rephrase that to, keep it short.

Global best-seller Patricia Cornwell reckons it is increasingly hard for a novelist to keep their readers engaged and interested. Attention spans have shrunk. Which is why she has reduced the number of pages in each chapter to ten. It used to be twenty.

As she told interviewer Sarah Rainey of London’s Daily Telegraph: “The books are still as long, just presented in shorter increments like scenes in a movie, so you have an obvious little stopping point.”

Which seems to make sense in a world where the 140-character Tweet seems to be the limit for today’s flitterers and flutterers. Anything lengthier and they feel as if they are struggling through War and Peace.

Ranked second to JK Rowling in world sales for female writers, Cornwell has just released Flesh and Blood, the latest in her yearly stream of crime novels featuring medical examiner Dr Kay Scarpetta.

And here again she is facing the problems of a fast-changing world; when Scarpetta first appeared in Postmortem in 1990 it broke new ground with its detailed forensic background.  In the years since, we have been assailed by such TV shows as CSI, Silent Witness, Waking the Dead, Bones and numerous lesser (but often gorier) tales that come in hour-long segments without entailing the need to concentrate on words on a page.

It’s tough competition.

But there is far more to a Cornwell novel than grisly goings-on in the morgue. As with so many crime writers she sees the genre as a means of looking at a much wider world.

“The crime  is just the party to get people to show up,” she says. “Scarpetta gets stuck in the same traffic jams as we do, she suffers the same modern stresses and she has to deal with social media in a recognisably contemporary setting.”

Which presumably means  keeping it short and simple before you lose the attention of those you are speaking to.  Shorter chapters are all the go – especially for those of us who like a book at bedtime.

Curse of the apostrophe

Once more I ponder the age-old question: what is it about apostrophes that so many people fail to understand?

I am wading my way through a book edit in which two-thirds of the corrections require the deletion, placement or shifting of an apostrophe.

In case you are among the perplexed masses, apostrophes do not denote a plural, as in: lots of comments’.

However, we could do with one in: the mans comments. But not placed thus: the mans’ comments.

Oh dear. I will soldier on …