Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Month: July 2009 (page 1 of 2)

I’m Not Sure That’s Helping

Human life has always involved balancing risks against reward, and I sometimes think that the more information we have available to us, the harder this gets. Take swine flu, for example. Compared with some diseases of the past, this is a pussy-cat, and yet it’s already managed to escalate to a serious political crisis.

When our ancestors were facing TB and cholera, they didn’t make it the topic of the day in Parliament or the newspapers. They just got on with their day to day lives; unless they caught it and died, in which case they quite understandably didn’t.

But I was quite taken when I went into the loo just before lunchtime and found that someone has left a can of some antiseptic wash product called “No-Germs” in there. (Clearly from the same school of marketing that produced “No More Nails”). That’s a sensible response to the threat of swine flu, right?

Well maybe… But it wouldn’t it have been better if they’d taken the cap off? With it on, I’d have to fully grasp the can with both hands in order to use it – and every bloke on the floor will be using it to, quite possibly straight after using the toilet. On the risk verses reward scale, I’m not quite sure where this one stands.

I elected not to use it.

WordWatch: Fiancé / Fiancée

One of the interesting aspects of the English language is that it is defined not by experts, but by its users. Ultimately, there is no right way or wrong way to speak English; instead there is simply the way it is spoken. The Oxford English Dictionary is usually regarded as the definitive authority on the English language, but this is what they say on the subject:

Is there an official committee which regulates the English language, like the Académie française does for French?

No, there never has been any group or body with this authority, and it is not the purpose of the Oxford English Dictionary Department to act in this way.

[link]

And:

How do you decide if a new word should go in an Oxford dictionary?

We conduct a Reading Programme to collect examples of words in use. If we have enough examples to show that a word has genuinely achieved currency, then we add it to our list of candidates for inclusion, and the editors research its usage and draft an entry. The general rule of thumb for the OED is that any word can be included which appears five times, in five different printed sources, over a period of five years.

[link]

The basic gist is this: if enough people start using a word “wrongly”, that is to mean something that it doesn’t actually mean, then eventually the OED will recognise that and ammend the meaning to include the new usage. Purists and pedants can cry all they like, but if the masses are wrong then the wrong becomes right. And yes, before you ask, I am one of those purist pedants who cries when I perceive words as being misused. And yes, I do hate textspeak. Why do you ask?

Anyhow, it’s something of a hobby of mine to think up words so threatened, so I thought I’d start a blog feature where I predict words who are at risk of having their meaning changed to reflect a current, arguably, incorrect usage. Endangered words, as it were.

And the first word? Well it’s two actually, Fiancé and Fiancée. Here’s some standard definitions I just looked up:

fi·an·cé
n.  a man engaged to be married; a man to whom a woman is engaged.

[link]

And:

fi·an·cée

n.  a woman engaged to be married; a woman to whom a man is engaged.

[link]

And if you look up “engaged” you get:

pledged to be married; betrothed: an engaged couple.

i.e. Your Fiancé or Fiancée is someone you intend to get married to. The man asked, “Will you marry me?” and the woman replied, “Yes!” If you didn’t want to get married, then the last thing you would do is ask someone to marry you, right? The only reason, historically, for a deplay between engagement and marriage was because weddings and homes had to be arranged, and perhaps even saved up for.

But that’s not how it’s used now, is it? Here are some examples:

London, Dec 20 (IANS) British actress Rachel Weisz’s fiancé for three years, director Darren Aronofsky, has no plans of marrying her as he insists they are “waiting for something special” to happen before they tie the knot.

[link]

And:

Nicole Richie isn’t in a rush to walk down the aisle. The socialite is too busy preparing for the birth of her second child to plan her wedding to Good Charlotte rocker fiancé Joel Madden, 30. ‘Of course,’ she tells chat show host Larry King. ‘When I was a little girl, you dream about getting married, and that is definitely a dream of mine one day.’

[link]

And:

‘Transformers’ star Megan Fox has no plans to marry her fiance Brian Austin Green despite recently reviving their engagement.

[link]

And:

Maggie Gyllenhaal hates watching her fiance strip on screen… Maggie also says she and Peter – who have a 21-month-old daughter Ramona together – have no plans to marry in the near future.

[link]

That’s just a few, but you see a lot more in the press, the classic ones being Premier League footballers on £50,000 a week who can spend years with their “Fiancées”, often having multiple children with them, and yet still not manage to get round to marrying them. What are they waiting for? Saving up for the wedding? Can’t find any venues free?

I mean, how does that conversation go?

Him: Darling, will you marry me?

Her: Yes! Yes! How about next June?

Him: Sorry?

Her: How about we get married next June?

Him: Married? I don’t want to get married. I’m only twenty-three! I’m far too young to be getting married!

The point here is that we don’t have a word to describe that state that is more serious than dating and where you are more than boyfriend and girlfriend, but where you aren’t yet ready to get married. I’m convinced that some couples nowadays will have the following conversation:

Him: Darling, would you like to get engaged?

Her: Yes!

And I think dictionary usage will catch up on this. I predict that before long, the definition will be something like:

fi·an·cé
1. n.  a man engaged to be married; a man to whom a woman is engaged.
2. n. a man with whom a woman is in a serious and committed relationship.

Oh well. Not a lot we can do about it.

One Giant Leap..?

I was a month old when Apollo 11 arrived on the moon, and three years old when Apollo 17 left. I’m not a child, with a future ahead of him; I’m a forty year old man more than halfway into his three score and ten, with as much life behind him as he might hope still to have.

And in all that time, the only moonwalking I ever got to see was Michael Jackson gliding backwards across a stage.

Something went wrong with 1969’s future.

Last Night’s Game…

…was virtual.

“Which one of you has got the lowest luck?”

“That’s never a good question for the GM to ask.”

It’s been a while since I last blogged about my Tuesday night game. I initially stopped when I took a blogging holiday, but by time I restarted blogging, it was coming up to my move to Brighton and I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do gaming-wise.

I’d initially thought I could perhaps still attend the game and crash at my parents’ house, but after looking at the timings of trains and buses and so on, I realised that it really didn’t work. And to be honest, much as I like gaming, I didn’t want to spend a night a week away from my wife. (And it wasn’t as though I would be seeing my parents instead, because I’d most likely be arriving home after they’d gone to bed, and then leaving for work before they got up).

Then it occurred to me that perhaps I could do something with Skype, which has a video-phone mode. And the answer is, we could. (That’s my view of things on the left, with TAFKAC looking at “me”, a.k.a. the laptop set up where I would have been sitting.

I discussed it before I left, and we agreed to give it a go. We’ve spent the time since the move checking out various options. £99 spent on a speciallised USB conferencing microphone/speaker for Skype turned out to be money down the drain; the microphone which came free with General Tangent’s Rock Band proved to be better. At that point, with my ears ringing from the hiss of just a half hour test, I was getting a bit worried that it was never going to work. That was why I didn’t blog about it; because if it didn’t work, I’d be depressed enough about not gaming with the guys anymore and the last thing I’d then want to do would be to blog about it.

But General Tangent (with, I think, some suggestions from John) tracked down an alternative microphone and a set of speakers, and when he and I tried a test last Thursday evening it sounded pretty good; good enough that we decided to go for a full gaming session the next Tuesday.

Of course, fate being what it is, my train decided to be 31 minutes late (only the second time it’s ever been more than a couple of minutes late since I moved to Brighton), so we didn’t get going until about eight. But then… well it basically just worked.

I couldn’t say it was quite the same as being there; actual reality has a 3D quality that a flat screen and a non-stereo microphone just don’t capture. (The video, however, helps a lot, since you can see the reactions to what you can say). But the point is that it was a hell of a lot better than not being there, and I’m sure that as time goes on, it will soon seem natural. And given that due to my now rather long commute, I don’t get home until 7:15 each evening, a gaming session that requires no travel and where I can happily eat my diner while playing, if late, is pretty good.

Although I do need to find the mute button. Apparently, the noise from the speakers when I munched on a cracker was slightly distracting.

A Feminist Perspective On Denis Walsh

By friend Brian has, in comments to my previous post, pointed me at a very interesting article that puts the case for Denis Walsh, the midwife who caused something of a stir by apparently suggesting that pain in childbirth is a good thing. It is true that we’re all basing our opinions on newspapers’ intrepretations of what he said in that article, not having read the article itself.

So in the interests of fairness, here’s the (well-argued) case for him:

http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2009/07/13/a-brief-defence-of-my-current-hero-denis-walsh/

Now That’s A Response

Yesterday, the blogo-twittersphere was buzzing with the news that Dr Denis Walsh, associate professor in midwifery at Nottingham University, had written a piece in Evidence Based Midwifery in which he stated his belief that pain in childbirth is a good thing, and something that women should not attempt to avoid through such pain-killing methods as epidurals.

A large number of women want to avoid pain. Some just don’t fancy the pain [of childbirth]. More women should be prepared to withstand pain. Pain in labour is a purposeful, useful thing, which has quite a number of benefits, such as preparing a mother for the responsibility of nurturing a newborn baby.

Over recent decades there has been a loss of ‘rites of passage’ meaning to childbirth, so that pain and stress are viewed negatively.

Full Observer Article…

As you can imagine, this caused something of a stir among many people, many of whom – unlike the rather male Mister Walsh actually had some experience in doing something which was like, as one of them put it, “Sh*tting a melon”. (That latter quote came from a comment to Marie Phillips’s excellent post on the subject, Strictly Come Birthing. I’ve read other commentators wonder if perhaps Doctor Walsh believes that husbands should be repeatedly kicked in the nuts while their wife is in labour, in order that they too might be prepared for the responsibility of nurturing a child.

And it was in another comment on that same post that I found a link to a brilliant comeback article by The Daily Mash, entitled: “WOMEN TO FORCE HAT-STAND INTO ANUS OF MALE MIDWIFE”

THE senior male midwife who criticised child-birth painkillers will today have a hat-stand forced into his anus, women have promised.

Dr Denis Walsh will be dragged from his office and taken to a paddling pool in the car park where three strong women will hold him down while another two take a seven-foot, solid pine hat-stand with six large curved coat hooks and put it in him.

Emma Bradford, a pregnant lady from Peterborough, said: “No painkillers, no epidurals, we want him to be able to bond with the hat-stand.”

Rest of article…

Somewhere in his piece, I think Doctor Walsh might have half a point. But I think he chose the wrong words with which to express it, and frankly, I think he’s the wrong gender to be the messenger.

Incoming!

4Paws was very cute last night. It was one of those moments that I guess makes owning a dog so special.

She’s always pretty happy to see me when I arrive home, but when I arrived home last night she’d apparently been having a nap, and was thus even more excited and energetic than usual. (Border Collies, seven-month old puppies especially, have a lot of energy – this was after being walked for a good few hours that day). After bouncing into me, into Jules, back into me, and then spending several seconds running round in circles on the sofa, she suddenly sprinted across the lounge, out the door and into the passageway, out of sight.

Jules (who was sitting at one end of the sofa) and I (who was sitting in front of the sofa) looked at each other, each thinking, “Where’s she off to?” Then, from the far end of the passage, we heard the sound of scrabbling paws on carpet as she presumably executed a one-eighty at high speed. There was another second or so of silence before she burst back through the open doorway and launched herself at us with a manic look on her face. I think Jules ducked one way and I certainly ducked the other, allowing her to sail through the space between us and crash into the back of the sofa. She bounced off, made a couple more manic laps of the sofa, then sprinted back out the doorway again.

She repeated that five or six times, with us throwing ourselves clear each time; on about the fourth time she hit the back of the sofa so hard and high that she nearly bounced over the back into the gap behind.

I think she was pleased to see me.

Adam Marek’s Instruction Manual For Swallowing

A few weeks ago, I went to Tales of the Decongested, an event about which I didn’t blog because I was more concerned over the disappearance of my entire website, due to what turned out to be some kind of idiotic cock-up by my hosting company.

So what I didn’t mention was that I met a pretty nice guy called Adam Marek, who’d been one of the readers at that evening’s event, and that he’s sold me a copy of his short-story collection, Instruction Manual For Swallowing. Now I’ll be honest here and admit that I’d bought the book purely on the basis of him being a nice guy and knowing from personal, and sometimes bitter, experience just how crap it is to be carrying about a bag full of books at least some of which you’d rather like to sell.

You’re chatting, you mention that you’ve written a book, they say something polite about perhaps buying it, you reveal that actually you do have a copy with you if they’d like to buy it, and the entire conversation then trundles neatly into the parking gallary of embarrassment, the easiest exit of which is for the non-author side of the conversation to offer up a crisp ten pound note. (Non-authors might disagree about this being the easiest way to resolve the embarrassing situation).

(I should stress that in no way did Adam hard sell me, guilt trip me, or anything like that. He was calm, polite and totally at ease – but I can get myself feeling embarrassed and guilty in an empty room and need no help from others).

Anyhow, so I bought it because he was a nice guy and it’s not very nice when you have a book to sell; but when I flipped it open and glanced at the first paragraph of the first story, I figured that I had no worries – because this was looking like a book I’d have bought anyway:

I once met a man with a 40-litre monkey. He measured all his animals by volume. His Dalmatian was small, only 18 litres, but his cat, a Prussian blue, was huge – five litres, when most cats are three. He owned a pet shop just off Portobello Road. I needed a new pet for my girlfriend because our last two had just killed each other.

More excerpts…

How cool is that for a beginning? I may as well at this point give you the blurb:

Robotic insects, a restaurant for zombies, a woman pregnant with 37 babies…welcome to the surreal, misshapen universe of Adam Marek’s first collection, where the body is fluid, the spirit mechanised and beasts often tell us more about our humanity than anything we can teach ourselves.

The stories are difficult to classify by genre. They don’t read like science-fiction or fantasy, but nearly all of the stories have some kind of fantastical edge. I think I’ll leave it by just saying that it’s a pretty damn good book and I really enjoyed reading it.

Oh, and Adam’s now got a new website up, complete with a blog and a Twitter feed.

I Have A New Girl In My Life

She’s seven-months old, black and white, and is always sure to greet me with a wagging tail when I get home from work. Yes, we have a dog.

In accordance with my long standing policy of protecting people’s privacy by using Internet handles rather than their real names, I will henceforth refer to her as 4PawsNexus, or 4Paws for short. She’s absolutely gorgeous and I’m hopelessly smitten.

Yesterday, we all took a very long walk (about 4 miles) up the sea front into Hove, stopping at Heather Mills’s new vegan cafe. (We couldn’t go in, because it was very late and it was booked for a private party, but we had a really good chat with the chef and it all sounds pretty good). And 4Paws had a lovely time, sniffing around, chasing after her ball, and enjoying lots of “doggy handshakes” (a.k.a. prolonged arse-sniffing) with lots of other very nice dogs. It really is true that you talk to people a lot more when you’ve got a dog.

And then we went home to our beds.

Marie Phillips at London Writers’ Club

Last night I went to the London Writers Club to hear a talk by Marie Phillips, author of Gods Behaving Badly. (You may remember that I mentioned this event last week).

It was really good. She gave a lot of good advice, too much to mention, so I’ll just mention two things that really struck me.

The first is that sometimes you have to give up, which is not what people normally say.

It’s very hard to write a novel, and you often get really depressed and discouraged. Because of this, the advice everyone almost invariably gives is to not give up, to keep going, even when you’re convinced it’s an utter pile of horseshit. And that’s usually good advice. But as Marie pointed out, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you find yourself working on something that simply isn’t working, that you simply can’t fix, and then you need to let it go.

The analogy she gave was brilliant:

If you’re in a relationship with someone, you don’t leave them just because you’ve had a row. You do everything you can to try and make it work.

But you don’t marry everyone you date.

As someone who’s started a lot more novels than I’ve ever completed, that was very reassuring. (Although now I think about it, I think I’ve started more novels than I’ve dated women… which is less reassuring).

Anyway… The second piece of advice was a largely throw-away remark about chapters in first drafts, which is not to worry about them. Marie was talking about how much her first draft gets rewritten in later drafts, and says that because of this she just bashes the first draft out as one long document, broken into scenes/sections, but not into chapters.

Which made so much sense. I agonise over where to put chapter breaks, and often find myself going round in circles. I’ll have one scene whose end might be perfect for the end of a chapter… but it’s perhaps only 1500 words from the last chapter break, and maybe I’m trying to average 3000-4000 words for a chapters. So maybe, I think, I should remove that previous chapter break, merging this too-short chapter with the previous one… but then that chapter’s now 5,100 words which is way too long.

You see what I mean.

So when she said that I realised she was right. If you’re probably going to end up making substantial changes to your first draft anyway, why bother with chapter breaks? Just write the damn thing, redraft it, and then sit down and work out the best way to chop it up. After all, the last thing you want to find yourself doing when redrafting is thinking: “I need to take this scene out because it’s redundant… but then the chapter will be too short. Damn.”

Oh, and having bought a copy of Gods Behaving Badly from Marie last night (signed, and everything!) I’m about a third of the way in and really enjoying it. Well worth a read.

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