Monday, 20 December 2010

Two Times Thirty Equals More

A couple more stories with exactly thirty words.


There was a noise. A soft metallic noise. He gazed. Nothing. Was that some movement? The dark made him unsure. He could not hide forever. Was that noise getting closer?



They were arguing again. Upstairs. I listened, amused. He domineering; she feisty, relenting. Then something new. A thud. And crying. Tears so silent they were barely discernible. I ashamed, wondering.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

That Stings

Ouch, that stings. There it goes again, gets me every time. Ouch, that really does sting. Again. That's painful. Again. Ouch, really, really painful. Again. Ouch.

Alright, alright I get the message. Better show I'm grateful. Act like I'm expecting what's coming. Else they'll do it again, they just love doing that. So it's dinner time, big deal, I know. After what they just did I really don't feel like eating. What a way to get a meal? Whose stupid idea was this? I'm sure it wasn't like this at the beginning. Was it? No, it can not have been.

How did I get into this mess? One day, there I was, minding my own business, just roaming round the streets, out and about like, doing nothing in particular. You know what it's like: things to smell, people to bark at, bits and pieces to lick. Best of all when you get your nose right inside something interesting, yes, the joy of a good sniff. You know, just in case it's a bit frisky. It's always nice when something is a bit frisky. And then what happens? This! How do you credit it? This! I'm flummoxed.

Dr. Rozakis on Grammar

It seems to be almost a truism about books on Grammar and English that they are not very inspiring reads. I guess that many of these books are churned out by failed novelists or essayists who can find no other outlet for their obvious love of language.

So what about this tome by Dr. Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.d? Well, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar & Style, 2nd Ed (2003 – note that there is a newer edition) is better than many but it's safely ensconced within the above category. Still there are a couple of major faults.

Firstly there are the jokes, if you can call them jokes. The humour is childish and I was fed up with it after only a few pages. She could never be a comedian or write a comedy script. Embarrassing is the word that springs to mind. And I got fed up with the same joke being repeated over and over again. What is it with guides like this. Why do publishes think that adding some lame jokes to a text book makes it consumer friendly?

Secondly the writing is not wildly exciting. It's sort of OK, just a bit dull. It's not that good an example for the reader. Worst of all, every couple of pages, there are some klutzy sentences. Not terrible, just a bit off. And I'm not talking about those intended to demonstrate how you can get grammar all wrong. They are unintended examples of poor English style. I'm sure they are grammatically correct, they are just embarrassing – see, that word crops up again.

So what about the content? After all that is supposed to be what the book is about. Here we are on safer ground and it's this that kept me reading until the end. Most of the advice is reasonable if pretty conservative. There's little you can argue with here and all the usual stuff is included. What more can I say?

The weakest area was towards the end with the advice of writing style. Here I found the examples a little superficial. For example Rozakis often mentions the need for using non-sexist language. Of course I totally agree with this aim. It's just I didn't find much in the way of practical help in avoiding the problem – other than don't do it, obviously correct but ultimately unhelpful.

In the end this is a do-as-I-say and not a do-as-I-do book. It's worth reading for that reason and following the advise it contains. However, I'm still looking for a really inspiring book on grammar.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Betty and Alfred

This one was a bit persistent. Not taking no for an answer. After an all to brief gap the knocking started again. Betty sat in her small living room and waited where she could never be seen. The front curtains were drawn. Those curtains were always drawn. No one was looking in, ever. She was out, at the shops, or at least that was her excuse. It was one of the usual women, dressed in black, name tag, bossy, always knew best, annoyingly well meaning.

The knocking stopped. Maybe it'd given up and gone, good riddance. But no such luck.  Betty could hear that woman on its mobile, calling the office, complaining, always complaining. Not that Betty could make out what was being said. Her hearing was getting bad these days. That was alright, she wasn't interested in anything they could say.

The annoyance outside continued its incessant chatter. Would it never shut up. Betty had been sitting there far too long, needed to stretch, her old frame could not take confinement. She stood and edged towards the living room door. Maybe, at last, that bossy woman was gone. She pushed the door slowly ajar and peeked through the crack between the door and its frame. The letter box clanked open.

“Betty, you alright?” the woman shouted.

Betty could just see two beady eyes peering through. Above the intrusive eyes and the spray on suntan was a wisp of obviously fake blonde hair. No woman in their mid-forties had hair that blonde. Unnatural.

“Do you want to see my ID?” and the letterbox became dark with something unreadable. “I'm from Social Services.”

Well, that was precisely why Betty did not want to talk. They wanted her to move into some horrible retirement home. Somewhere she could be looked after. Somewhere that would not tolerate nuisance neighbour behaviour. Betty blamed all those vindictive rumours on the equally elderly lady next door. Really she didn't need looking after, she just wanted to be left alone. They'd forced her to move into this council bungalow years ago and she didn't want to move again. She gotten used to it here.

More knocking and the shadow over the front door disappeared. She might have heard the crunching of the gravel on her pathway. Maybe not, her hearing was none to good these days. She sat down again and waited. It was best to be careful.

Only last month another equally annoying and bossy woman had visited her. Alas that one had barged in and complained about, “how can you live like this,” and, “this all needs cleaning,” and, “have you considered this, that, and the other.”

Well no she hadn't and no she wouldn't. She could manage. Betty just wanted to scream at this one to leave her alone. Then the female annoyance had taken exception to the sofa, all for some reason Betty never really understood nor wanted to. The next day a newish-old one arrived. The old-old one was thrown out. It was still upside down in her front garden waiting to be collected. She hadn't asked for any of this or wanted it.

These visits were becoming more frequent and that was an ominous sign. But the latest female pestilence was safely gone. Betty had escaped at least for another day. She could have the joy of making all the noise she wanted, at least temporarily. Inching towards the kitchen she put the kettle on. Tea, fortunately some things never changed.

With the commotion over Alfred showed himself, just as he always did, having jumped onto the windowsill. Betty opened the window, he poked his head in, scanned the kitchen for intruders, jumped down and casually strolled over to a shaft of sunlight. He flopped on the floor in front of her and stared. That tabby wasn't afraid of anything. And neither was she.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Feeding Time

I feel like a snack. Yes, just a little snack, that would go down fine. I'm feeling a little peckish at the moment. I've just enough room for something light, something to keep me going until my big monthly dinner.

What about fat lady? What about that one there, that fat one, waddling across the street? No, I don't think so. She looks all grumpy. She looks so grumpy, so indigestible. And that thick coat in weather like this. It does make them so bad tempered. It just wouldn't go down well. And I had one of those last week, so grisly. I want something a bit different. I want something that's nice, tasty.

There's such a wide choice. It's just so hard to decide. What about that businessman? I've not had one of those recently. When was the last time I had businessman? You know, I can't remember. Oh no, look at him yapping away into that little box. That's just so off putting. Thinks he's so important – when all he's going to be is someone's next meal. You'd never get him to shut up, no, not him, horrible, just horrible. I'll let someone else digest that load of food poisoning.

But I am so peckish. I'm even hungrier now. You know, just thinking about food makes you feel so hungry. I want more than just a snack now. I want a full blown meal. It's just so hard to decide. Watching all these pedestrians makes you realise there's such a tantalising choice.

I have it, I have it. I've made my choice. Of course, it has to be geek, a nice geek. That would go down really well. I know where I can find one of those. Yes, I've been preparing one of those for weeks. I've had it on what you might call slow burn. I'm going to have geek. I'm going to have a geek. It'll make a nice juicy change.

Here we are, up these stairs, there's a nice juicy geek waiting for me up here. He'll be up here with in front of his computer, you'll see. Thirteen hours into some silly game that's wasting his life. Still, that's good for me. He'll have a right fright when he sees me. All that angst building up is great. He'll really feel the pain, all that lovely, lovely pain.

Didn't I tell you, I must have told you, no, you're sure, then I suppose I'd better: I feed on pain. That's what keeps me going, lovely, lovely pain. That's what us superior life forms live on. It's so much more nutritious than that rubbish you eat. No need for those silly diets, no risk of obesity. All I need is a steady supply of lovely, delicious pain.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Colette: The Other Woman

(Virago Modern Classics, 1993)

This book had been sitting, lost, on my bookshelf for a number of years, decades even. It was lent to me by a huge Colette fan with a high recommendation, but somehow it became forgotten and never returned. Alas now I am unable to return the book. So when, recently, searching through a pile of books, it appeared in my hands, I forced myself to find time to read it. In memory of that Colette fan.

Colette (1873-1954) died at the ripe old age of 81. Her full name was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and she always caused controversy. She had many lovers and marriages as well as lesbian affairs. She worked in the music halls of Paris as well mixing it with the artistic avant garde.

These stories in The Other Woman are drawn from the short story collections La Femme Cachée (1924) and Paysages et Portraits (Published in 1954, after her death). It would have been nice to have some details on the source of each story and a date when it was written. A one page editorial note containing this information would have been helpful. In fact I have provided more details here in this review then is contained in the book itself.

Most of the stories in this collection are very brief, atmospheric and somewhat ephemeral. Hence many of the stories do not much of what could be called a plot - not that every story has to have a 'plot'. Still these stories are so effervescent and transient that the desired image is often over before it has a chance to establish itself in your mind. A bit like visiting a designer food restaurant, it tasted nice but you leave wanting to visit the chip shop.

One thing that is noticeable, and common with much literature of this period and before, is that only the upper classes are allowed to have feelings. Anyone from a lower orders has a strictly walk on role. At best when anyone from the lower class enters the plot their aspirations can only be expressed through the feeling of someone from an upper class background.

This is most explicit in last two stories and these happen to be the most interesting stories in the book. They are both set during the War. I guess this is the First World War but I cannot be completely sure (no dates for the stories are given as I said before). Because of the setting you see some of the real world impinging on the world of bourgeois women.

In one of these stories two bourgeois women are upstaged by their maids while picking the grape harvest. Still it's the bourgeois women we are expected to feel for and pity.

I suppose it's my modern eyes but I do find the walk on role of servants in these stories disturbing. These entities never have any personality. (I was going to use the word 'characters' in the previous sentence, but 'entities' is more accurate.) And it's automatically assumed that real people will own one of these entities. I find this attitude offensive.

In the end I think Colette was a good writer and I'm glad I have read the book. But a great writer? No, I think not. The book does not leave me with thoughts ringing in my mind. Just some vague impression bourgeois angst.

But to finish on a more positive note, for that Colette fan. I did like the jealous WWI grape pickers being upstaged by their maids. Maybe I should try one of Colette's novels?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Second-hand English: Food or Pood

I was on the bus travailing into the centre of Birkenhead a few mornings ago. This winters snow had the better of me and, being lazy, I could not be bothered to scrape the ice off my car. So the bus was an easy option. Several stops later two youngish women got on and sat in front of me. Let's call them Ms Loud and Ms Demure. It's better not to use their real names, and, maybe fortunately, I do not know them. It became obvious, especially from Ms Loud, that the pair were training to become primary school teachers and were, probably, on their way into college. You could not help overhearing the conversation, or at least one half of it. Ms Loud was not going to be ignored by the back row of any classroom and must have been practising this art profusely.

Despite the volume Ms Loud did not have much of interest to say apart from one piece of trivia. I guess Ms Loud must have reached the stage where she had been getting some classroom experience. She described one girl she had been teaching and this girl had the misfortune to spell the word food with a 'P'. This poor girl had ended up with the letters p-o-o-d on her test paper.

I only know two facts about the girl: she was seven and she was a girl. Ms Loud seemed shocked by this error and admonish the girls reputation in somewhat forthright terms. Ms Demure, on the other hand, did not say very much.

But is this faux pas quite so irrational. After all, in English, the 'F' sound is not that dissimilar to the 'ph' sound. Just think of words like: phonograph, phantom, physical and numerous others.

While pood does indeed look strange on paper you could imagine fuse spelt phuse, or indeed phase spelt fase - odd as they appear at first sight. It's just a convention that food is spelt f-o-o-d and not ph-o-o-d. Maybe the seven year old was not as crazy as first appeared.

I don't think I would have liked Ms Loud as a teacher. I'd much prefer the imagination of the seven year old.