Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Month: September 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Three Pieces Of Creative Writing Advice For School Children

Marie Phillips (@mpphillips), author of Gods Behaving Badly, tweeted the following this morning:

Preparing my first ever day of Creative Writing teaching for teens for First Story Any advice welcome!

Well I figured I’d bash my advice out, random and uninformed as it is, as a blog post, and then tweet that. So here it is!


When your primary school teacher told you not to use “said” in fiction she was wrong. Contrary to what she told you, said is a nice unobtrusive way of connecting dialogue to its speaker. As a rough rule of thumb, always use said unless you particularly want to convey that the dialogue wasn’t merely spoken, but was instead asked, whispered, shouted, mumbled and so on. If every time you want to say “said” you think of some alternative, you’re just providing a distraction to the reader as they try to read your dialogue.


Punctuation is important. It’s not old fashioned. It’s there for a reason. Consider the classic (and perhaps apocraphal?) line by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

“Holmes!” I ejaculated.

If ever a sentence needed punctuation, I think we can all agree that by Christ it’s that one. (And as an aside, if your teacher insists that you must use words other than “said”, try throwing an “ejaculated” into your story).

A lot of people will say that they leave punctuation out of what they write because it’s quicker to write that way. That’s true, but they’ve missed the point. What counts is not how quick your text is to write, but how quick it is to read. Your text will be written once, by you, but read many times, by many people. Punctuation makes text quicker to read. It’s like a rally-driver’s co-driver, constantly instructing the driver about the twists and turns ahead.

Without punctuation, the brain has to waste time working extra hard trying to resolve the ambiguities that unpunctuated text is full of – and each time the brain guesses wrong, the reader has to back-track, which wastes even more time.

Take the sort of sentence that I often see on the Net, and which I absolutely loathe.

When I looked out the window and saw it had snowed I decided to go sledging something I’d always wanted to do.

As you read, you stream the words in, attempting to guess the context with which they are said by guessing what might come ahead – with commas and fullstops providing “milestones” at which you can tie down certain meanings. Take the sentence above, at the point at which we’ve read the following:

When I looked out the window and saw it had snowed I decided to go sledging

Now because there isn’t a comma after “sledging” we know that the next word must be something like “as” or “with” or “down”. Something like:

When I looked out the window and saw it had snowed I decided to go sledging as it was something I’d always wanted to do.

When I looked out the window and saw it had snowed I decided to go sledging with my friend Dave.

When I looked out the window and saw it had snowed I decided to go sledging down the hill near my house.

Except we don’t get that, do we? We get:

When I looked out the window and saw it had snowed I decided to go sledging something

This can only make sense if you use the word “sledging” in its Australian sense, to insult someone. And even then it doesn’t make much sense. You saw that it was snowing, so you decided to go out and insult an inanimate object? Of course, as you struggle over the next few words, getting to:

When I looked out the window and saw it had snowed I decided to go sledging something I’d always

…you realise there’s a bloody comma missing. At this point you have to mentally deconstruct the sentence you’ve been building up about a snow-bound Australian, and then reconstruct it as it was supposed to be, with a change of context after the word sledging.

It’s the literary equivalent of putting a rod through the spokes of cyclist speeding past you, and as with that act, should only be done if you actually want to bugger up the person concerned.


If you have teachers who are anything like mine, they’ll have pretty strict ideas about what sort of literature you ought to be reading and writing and it might well not be anything you particularly want to write. In my case, I wanted to read and write science-fiction, and with one exception, they significantly failed to be wild about that. They chided, they cajoled, they critised (one appended a comment along the lines of “This is stupid… why can’t you write about something that might actually happen” to a story I’d written about the destruction of the ozone layer, about a year before that become common knowledge outside of hard-core greens and SFers).

In the end, they so ground down my confidence in my ability to write fiction that in my O’Level English Language exam (yes, I am so old that my education predates GCSEs) I took the safe non-fiction option in the essay writing section and got a “safe” grade B. I’ve always wondered if I might have got an A if I’d attempting the more standard fiction piece.

I was wrong to listen to them. Read what you enjoy reading. Write what you enjoy writing.

Unless it’s slash fiction, of course. I’m sorry, but having Riker get it on with Piccard is as wrong as having Will getting it on with Grace would have been. (Although I’ll make an exception for Kirk / Spock slash purely because the idea of William Shatner saying, “My. God. Spock. It’s. E-normous.” is just too delicious for words).

Anyone else got any thoughts about advice she could give?

Strictly Week One: Thoughts and Musings

Last night, my other half and I finally got round to watching last Saturday’s Strictly Come Dancing (what the rest of the world calls “Dancing with the Stars”) on catchup. It eventually came down to a dance off between former tennis player Martina Hingis and former policeman and now TV presenter Rav Wilding, with the judges plumping to keep Wilding in the contest after a two-two vote broken only by the casting vote of Len Goodman, the chief judge.

We both felt that Martina was unlucky to go. Now I’ll admit that in my case, a lot of this is probably due to the fact that I’m a heterosexual bloke and will thus – given the choice between two people whose dancing I have no particularly strong feelings about – generally go for the pretty girl in the nice dress.

And I did think Martina was looking quite pretty on Saturday night. Actually, I’ve always thought she was quite pretty… [Day dreams for a moment]. But anyway. [Takes deep breath – focus, focus!]

In the dance off, both couples had to dance the one dance of the two they’d done over the two shows that had scored the highest, which in both cases was the rumba they’d danced that night. Both, in my totally amateur and frankly ignorant opinion, were a bit ropey, but in different ways: Martina danced badly; Rav didn’t dance.

And this is where I think that male and female contestants who can’t dance (such as these two) are affected in different ways by the various dances – in particular which dances will make them look awful as opposed to merely bad.

I’m probably drastically oversimplifying this, and I should stress in advance that I have no idea what I’m talking about, but the dances break down into two families: ballroom and Latin. In ballroom (except for the bit at the start that always pisses Len off) you dance round together in a hold, with the man leading; in Latin you generally dance together, but not in a constant hold.

So if you’re a woman and you can’t dance, you’re best off doing a ballroom dance, because then your male partner can drag you round the floor while you hang on to him trying to look beautiful (and attempting to avoid “the claw!!!”); whereas in the Latin you’ll be all flailing arms and wooden legs.

By contrast, if you’re a man who can’t dance, the ballroom dance will be a horror show in which your partner attempts to maneuver a weight much larger than her (that’s you!) around the floor while making it look like the complete opposite is  actually occurring; whereas in the Latin you can simply stomp around looking macho and masterful while she desperately dances around you in an attempt to stop anyone noticing that you aren’t actually dancing. (If a woman tried that, she’d merely look dull and slow, and her partner would probably look a tad “flamboyant”).

Anyway, this was exactly what happened on Saturday night. Rav stomped around looking masterful; Martina flailed her arms about.

Personally, I’d have given it to the one who was actually dancing.

And the fact that she’s cute doesn’t hurt.

On The Simularity Between Signing Queues and Bus Queues

One of the many misconceptions that people of other nationalities have of English people – Americans chief among them I’m afraid – is that we’re all so reserved and private that we’d rather die than exchange words with a stranger.

Like most such stereotypes this is, of course, rubbish. It’s people like me from the South of England who see conversation with strangers as a extreme social taboo – go up to the North of England, and they’ll natter away at anything that moves and a lot that doesn’t. I know. I’ve got family in Yorkshire, visit frequently, and often find myself thrown into a panic by complete strangers greeting me as I walk along the street. (I usually just smile and nod back and hope to hell they’ll be happy to leave it at that).

Many years ago, a school friend of mine went to University in Lancashire. When he returned home after the first term, he’d gone completely native, saying excitedly: “It’s great! Complete strangers talk to you on the bus!”

Only half joking, I told him that stranger talks to me on the bus, he’s either a pervert or a retard! Now I should stress that this was 22 years ago and I was 18. Were I to have the same conversation now, I would choose my words far more carefully and with considerably more tact; but I suspect the overall message would have been much the same. I don’t generally talk to strangers on public transport; it’s just not a thing we do down here.

So anyway, last night I went to London’s Forbidden Planet to attend a signing by one of my favourite authors, Kim Stanley Robinson, that I’d only found out was happening that day. (And as it happens, I’d literally just finished re-reading his novel, the Wild Shore, just a couple of days previously – I really am a fan).

So anyhow, there was a little queue of us, and a stack of books at a table, but come the start of the signing at 6 o’clock, no author. (Funnily enough, this was the exact opposite of my one and only signing for Game Night: I was there, but no queue of readers).

It turned out that Kim was late because of a mix up with times. I must stress that when he did turn up he was very apologetic, most gracious, and by his conduct put himself right up towards the top of my personal “writers, personal opinion of” chart, the bottom of which is currently occupied by a certain big-name SF author I had the misfortune to hear speak at a science-fiction convention some time ago.

The Big Name SF Author

I was in the audience for a panel supposedly about writing courses. For the first ten minutes or so, the four panelists managed to largely contain themselves to merely being mildly smug and self-congratulatory about the courses they’d run or attended, but then for no particularly compelling reason the big name SF author segued sideways into a long, sustained, mean-spirited and frankly vicious attack on the self-publishing industry and self-published authors, with the former being described as “evil” and the latter being described as angry, socially dysfunctional individuals with an inability to take criticism, a burning belief that they were right and that everyone else in the world was wrong, and a fanatical desire to prove the rightness of that latter conviction through the successful self-publishing of their novel.

(Midway through this, he did backtrack slightly, and concede that self-publishing firms weren’t actually evil…)

As you can no-doubt guess from the way in which I’ve described it, I was somewhat enraged both by what he said, and by the cold viciousness in which he chose to say it. I’m not saying that he’ll remain at the bottom of my “writers, personal opinion of” chart for ever, but I’d advise anyone wishing to seize that bottom place from him to begin their interaction with me by punching me hard in the face if they wish to have a fighting chance, such is the degree to which I’m still outraged by what he said.

And finally, now that he’s made me aware of just how much prejudice there is against self-published books in the publishing industry, I now always feel compelled to point out that my own novel ended up being small-press published rather than self-published. This is of course the same moral cowardice that leads people to begin attacks on homophobia with the line, “I’m not gay myself, but…”, and yes, it does leave me feeling similarly disappointed in myself.

Anyway, so, signing queues. And bus queues. Yes I have got a point, and after spending this long typing the introduction, rest assured, I am damn well going to make it.

Some way into our wait, @Danacea of Forbidden Planet (whose tweet was responsible for me being there in the first place) came out to explain that they were very sorry, but that they didn’t know where Kim currently was. People were actually a little worried. It was starting to sound like chapter one of a thriller:

“So. He flew into the country on Wednesday morning. Do we have proof that he arrived?”

“He had lunch with his publisher on Wednesday afternoon.”

“And then he was supposed to appear at some… comics shop?”

“Forbidden Planet, sir. In Shaftesbury Avenue.”

“Right. He was supposed to be there at six, but he never showed up?”

“Yes sir. I believed the staff waited until a little after nine before raising the alarm.”

“They waited three hours?”

“He’s a writer, sir.”

But the point is this: it was at that very point that I started to talk to the guy who’d been standing in front of me for a good half hour, a guy who turned out to be a very personable New Zealander with whom I had a very interesting chat on subjects ranging from the author we were there to see, theories as to where he might be, the Internet, and the privacy implications of widespread Internet usage.

Which is where a signing queue turns out be just like a bus queue, at least in the South of England. Because you see there is a time when it is perfectly socially acceptable to talk to strangers in a public transport setting, and that is when the bus, or train, is significantly late or something has gone obviously wrong.

There are just too many of us packed into too small an area for us to regularly converse with strangers. We’d spend our entire life talking, and never have a chance for thought or contemplation. The taboo against talking is the shield we need to give us that space; but when exceptional circumstances strike we can drop the shield without fearing that we’ll never have personal space again.

Which is why I got chatting in the queue. Because when Danie made her announcement we were now officially in exceptional circumstances. And you know what? I’m quite glad KSR was late. It made it much more of an occasion.

The Old New Labour Playbook

I’m not a fan of Margaret Thatcher by any means. Hell, while back in the 1980s my teen-aged self might not have considered her to be the Antichrist, I probably would have figured her as the Antichrist’s John the Baptist. Now, whilst still disagreeing (sometimes quite violently) with the probably the majority of what she did, I think I can perhaps see her in more measured terms. And in particular, I think I can now appreciate a fact now that escaped me then.

For a woman to get to be Prime Minister is one hell of an achievement; it would be so now, it was doubly so thirty years ago.

The barriers facing her, not only of sexism but perhaps also – being a grocer’s daughter – of class, were huge, and she smashed them all down one after another in a way that I can’t help but admire. She wasn’t the first prime-minister in the world, but she was the first to lead a major world power, and her election was undoubtedly a milestone in the drive to gender equality.

Of course, I wouldn’t expect New Labour to see it that way. You see, whatever I might think about Margaret Thatcher, she always struck me as – in the political sense – being honest and in possession of integrity, which is often more than can be said of New Labour; too eager to spin and manipulate the truth; too willing to politicise people, practices and organisations that should have stayed politically neutral.

Which brings me to the point of this post. As revealed by the BBC, the Equality’s Office (a branch of the government led by Harriet Harman) published on their website a document entitled “Women in Power: Milestones” which listed those people who had advanced the cause of women in politics, both in the UK, and elsewhere in the world. Fifteen women were mentioned by name. Margaret Thatcher was not one of them.

Yes. The government did a list of all the woman who’ve achieved milestones in the political arena, with a particular focus on Britain, and somehow managed to avoid mentioning Margaret bloody Thatcher! That’s like leaving writing a list of great physicists of the twentieth century and leaving out Albert Einstein.

Here’s the list (as originally published) of all the women mentioned, with the one, glaring omission.

1907 First woman councillor elected in Britain – Reina Emily Lawrence

1919 First woman to take a seat in Parliament – Nancy Astor

1958 Life Peerages Act entitles women to sit in House of Lords Lady Reading and Baroness Barbara Wooton first to take seats

1960 First female Head of Government – Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

1976 Shreela Flather elected first Asian woman councillor in Britain

1979 UK’s first woman Prime Minister

1981 Baroness Young becomes first woman Leader of the House of Lords

1984 Britain’s first black female mayor – Lydia Simmons, Slough

1987 Diane Abbott elected first black woman MP

1990 Baroness Flather is the first female Asian peer

1997 First BME female government Minister – Patricia Scotland

1998 Baroness Uddin is the first Muslim woman in the House of Lords

1999 UK’s first Asian female MEP – Neena Gill

2003 Baroness Amos is the first black woman appointed to Cabinet

2003 Baroness Amos is first black woman Leader of the House of Lords

2007 Baroness Scotland is first black woman Attorney General

It’s not like they’d have had to look her name up.

It’s petty. It’s childish. It’s rude. And this wasn’t an internal prank. They published this. What moron could possibly think this was acceptable?

I remember something my brother once said about the architects of New Labour. In the 80s, a lot of them had been hard-left Trotskyists; in the 90s they abandoned those beliefs but retained the ideological certainty that they were right and that anyone who disagreed was a progress-obstructing dinosaur who deserved to be bulldozed by the juggernaut of history.

These people have been in charge of a once-neutral civil service for twelve years now. Stunts like this make me wonder how much of it is left intact.

Last Night’s Game

Towards the end of the weekly start-of-game discussion in which I try to remember what we were doing last time…

Me: [stumped] Sorry, why are we buying a load of cleaning equipment again?

TAFKAC: That’s you saying that, right, not your character? You’d better not be saying that in the shop. If you say that out loud I’ll kick you. And it will be a proper kick!

General Tangent: Yeah. The sort where you get to tick the box afterwards.

For those who’ve never played the game, Call of Cthulhu – along with its fellow Basic Roleplaying Sytem cousin Runequest – has an experience system in which your skills improve through use. Next to each skill on the character sheet is a little box; if at any point during a scenario you make a successful test when using that skill in a non-trivial situation, you can tick the box. At the end of the scenario, you can make a roll for each ticked skill to see if it’s improved.

While perhaps more realistic than D&D’s experience and level based system (“Dammit! I don’t think I know enough physics to get more than a grade B in my upcoming GCSE exam. Better go out and beat the shit out of a few homeless people so I can push for a grade A!”) it does have its flaws, such as the “Runequest Weapons Caddy” syndrome, in which combat participants switch weapons each time they score a successful hit, gradually working through the contents of their weapons bag.

And of course, you are prone to get sequences like:

Player: I’ll jump up onto the table, see if can I spot anything while listening for any unusual chatter, and then climb down. [Picks up dice]What happens? Should I roll?

GM: No. You don’t see anything, you don’t hear anything, everyone in the pub now thinks you’re a wanker, and the angry landlord gives you a rag to wipe off the mud you’ve left on his table.

Anyhow. He didn’t kick me. (And we were planning on forcing someone out of his house using some kind of chemical stink weapon, if you were wondering).

Saving Stone: Six Gods Sit Down To Spend Another Evening Roleplaying Really Badly

Back at the start of the year, I released in PDF form a free novella-length prequel to my novel Game Night. The 30,000 word novella, Saving Stone, told the tale of an earlier adventure by Game Night’s roleplaying gods and their poor, confused mortal “characters”. What are Saving Stone (and Game Night) about? Well here’s the blurb I usually give at conventions.

You know the old idea about Greek gods who play games with the affairs of mortal men? Well this a group of Greek-style gods playing a roleplaying game with the affairs of some mortal men. It’s really an excuse to tell the story of a roleplaying game from the point of view of both the players (the gods) and the characters (their mortals). But the key thing here is that the reality that the mortal men are experiencing is real, because when gods dream they create reality, albeit in this case a horribly fractured, warping, looping, dysfunctional reality, because they’re playing the game really, really badly.

Game Night and Saving Stone are basically just funny fantasy stories with a gaming theme.

But it occurred to me a few days ago that I’ve picked up quite a few Twitter and blog followers since then, many of whom might have no idea that Saving Stone even exists – so I thought I ought to remind people that it’s out there. Here’s some of the feedback I got:

“The funniest story I’ve read in a long time… At one point, I was laughing so hard, I was crying.” [Link]
Old Guy RPG Blog

“You should read it. Immediately… It captures the roleplaying experience in all its wonderful and absurd glory, with a fidelity I’ve never seen before.” [Link]
Roger Carbol

“Ha! Just got to the Sword-and-Scroll bit. Brilliant!” [Link]

“Amazingly funny! Thank you for the knee slapping crying laugh I had at the scene in the “treasure room”. I haven’t laughed like that in a long time!” [Link]

“Right, Mr. Nexus, I want to know how you’ve tuned into my Tuesday night sessions so well? Brilliant. I’m HIGHLY entertained.” [Link]
pyroriffic, Critical Miss Forums

Anyhow, if you haven’t yet checked Saving Stone out, then I’d be grateful if you took a look at it. Here it is:

If you have checked it out, and liked it, I’d be grateful if you’d try spreading the word a bit. It was always my intention to release it online and free as a advert for Game Night – but for that to work it needs to spread by word of mouth. If no-one talks about it, then it was a waste of time me writing it. So if you can mention it on forums, blogs and twitter, I’d be very, very grateful.


On The Difference Between Conjuring And Lying

On Wednesday evening Derren Brown did a show where he apparently predicted the results of the national lottery. Yesterday evening, he promised to reveal how he did it.

Now it was always going to be a trick, and those people who are apparently now upset that it wasn’t done by some kind of mystical means or that it’s not something they could use to win the lottery frankly need to get some sort of grip on reality, because they’re currently in orbit around planet Loopsville.

But there’s tricks, and then there’s tricks. When a magican tricks me, I want it to be because he outwitted my eyes’ ability to observe and my brain’s ability to analyse. Not because he plain damn lied. And when it comes to TV magicans this basically amounts to:

What the TV camera shows me must be exactly what I would see if I were sitting there.

Otherwise, you’re not fooling me. You’re just lying. It’s like the difference between beating a man in fair combat and jumping him from behind.

So what was the explanation? Well there were two.

The first, which took about 55 minutes of the show to outline, was that it involved the “wisdom of crowds”: that if you get enough people to take a guess at something, then their average will be very close to the true answer. This is obviously bullshit in this case for two reasons:

a) As an excellent blog post by John Walker says, “the wisdom of crowds” doesn’t apply when there’s no wisdom involved in their selection”. (i.e. When you’re guessing entirely random numbers).

b) As several people on YouTube pointed out, if you ask people to come up with guesses between 1 and 49, and then add them up, the numbers will trend towards the middle, just as if you roll two six sided dice and add them up, the numbers will trend towards seven. So for 24 people to come up with an average of “1”, every single one of them would have had to guess 1. Apparently, on this occasion they came up with a 2. Right…

So that was bullshit.

Then right at the end, when I was very disappointed at him putting out an explanation that was clearly false, he came up with one that was both possible and perhaps even halfway plausible. The explanation was that he’d got an insider into the lottery organisation who’d enabled him to swap six of the balls with a near identical set that were 20 grams heavier. Of course, the explanation was couched in terms of, “I didn’t do this, because that would be illegal, but I had have done it…”

Now unlike the previous explanation, this is at least possible, and I’ll confess it had me going for a while. Yes, it seems unlikely that someone could penetrate National Lottery security, but fifteen years of success does breed complacency. And whilst it would be illegal, journalists often do things that are, strictly speaking illegal, but get away with it because they can claim it’s in the public interest. (Such as when they use fake qualifications to first get and then do a job to expose the fact that a company isn’t properly vetting its workers).

But… this would really be a quite serious fraud. So it’s possible, but very, very unlikely.

And then I saw this.

Derren Brown Lottery Prediction – REAL EXPLANATION EXPOSED – How did he do it? All revealed!!!!

It has two bits of evidence, one very clear, one much harder to see. I had to replay it several times before spotting it. It’s made much harder by the way the camera is bouncing about, but ask yourself this: why did he use a shaky hand-held camera rather than just putting it on a tripod? But I think it makes it very clear that it was simply a split screen camera trick.

Which I think is lame.

(Unless, of course, the YouTube video’s a fake. Which I guess is part of the problem here. Once people start lying, we end up in X-Files “trust no-one” territory).

Last Night’s Gaming Session

We’d parked ourselves in an extremely expensive, albeit dubious, club, and had dinner. Post-dinner, talk had moved onto the bill.

General Tangent (GM): The waiter tells you that the bill is three pounds.

[A discussion ensues about the size of the bill. It is eventually, and reluctantly, accepted.]

General Tangent (GM): [To TAFKAC] Okay, make a credit rating roll.

TAFKAC: Failed.

General Tangent (GM): Okay you haven’t got any money with you. Emily [TAFKAC’s PC’s NPC personal assistant] normally carries it.

TAFKAC: But she’s here with us.

General Tangent (GM): No she isn’t.

TAFKAC: Yes she is. She was outside in the street with us, and I’m not going to leave her out there, am I?

General Tangent (GM): Okay. [Thinks for a moment]. In which case the bill’s four pounds.

Beating the Truth Out Of Users

In my time as a programmer, I’ve spent quite a lot of time on the phone talking to users who are attempting to report some kind of problem. It can sometimes be very frustrating. People say that programmers can be poor communicators, and that is often true; but the same accusation can equally be made of many users.

The worst case scenario is when you get the “perfect storm”, a user who is impatient, vague, reluctant to answer direct questions with an equally direct answer, and who only knows one technical term and is determined to use it, regardless of whether or not he or she is using it with anything like its correct meaning.

What’s it like? Well imagine a teenaged son had been given permission to borrow his dad’s car to go to work, and then phoned his dad…

Son: Dad! The Ford’s crashed.

Dad: What!?!?

Son: [Impatient] The Ford’s crashed. I need you to sort everything out.

Dad: [confused] Ford… Ford? Are you talking about the car?

Son: Yeah, yeah. The car.

Dad: You’ve crashed the car?

Son: It’s crashed.

Dad: [Confused] Who crashed it?

Son: No-one.

Dad: Well you were there, right?

Son: When?

Dad: When it crashed?

Son: [Impatient] Yes.

Dad: And was anyone else there?

Son: Why does that matter?

Dad: Okay. Are you hurt?

Son: No. But I need to get to work!

Dad: But you’re okay?

Son: [Angry] No. I’m not okay. I need to get to work and the car’s crashed.

Dad: So what happened?

Son: [Confused] What do you mean?

Dad: What happened? How did the crash happen?

Son: I don’t know. That’s why I’m phoning you!

Dad: You don’t know how the crash happened?

Son: No. I already told you that.

Dad: Well where did it happen?

Son: Where did what happen?

Dad: The crash!

Son: I don’t know. It was like that when I found it.

Dad: You found it crashed?

Son: Yes.

Dad: Where?

Son: Where, what?

Dad: Where did you find it crashed?

Son: In the driveway. Where else was I going to find it?

Dad: You found it crashed in the driveway?

Son: Yes.

Dad: And did you hear anything?

Son: Hear what? When?

Dad: [Exasperated] Did you hear the sound of a car crashing, after I left to work, but before you went out and found it crashed!

Son: No.

Dad: You didn’t notice it? Someone crashed the car in the driveway when you were in the house and you didn’t notice it?

Son: No. Look dad, I really need to get to work.

Dad: Well is the car not working?

Son: No. That’s why I’m calling you.

Dad: Have you called the police?

Son: Why would I have called the police?

Dad: Because someone’s crashed our car in our driveway?

Son: Look I don’t know who’s done what. I just know that the car’s crashed and I need to get to work.

Dad: Okay. How badly damaged is it?

Son: I don’t know.

Dad: Well what damage can you see?

Son: I can’t see any damage.

Dad: Well is it parked funnily?

Son: No.

Dad: [Confused] Well how do you know it’s been crashed?

Son: Because it’s crashed, and now it doesn’t work.

Dad: And you’ve tried starting it have you?

Son: Do you mean have I tried starting it, again?

Dad: What do you mean, again?

Son: What?

Dad: Okay. You went out, and found out that it had crashed. After that, did you try to start it?

Son: No.

Dad: Why not?

Son: Because it had crashed.

Dad: Look, let’s just start from the top. Tell me exactly what you did this morning when you left the house.

Son: I got into the car and found that it had crashed.

Dad: You had to get into the car first, before you knew that it had crashed?

Son: Yes. Obviously.

Dad: Well how did you know that it had crashed?

Son: Because it crashed.

Dad: Okay. [Takes deep breath]. What did you do when you got into the car?

Son: Tried to start it up.

Dad: And?

Son: It crashed.

Dad: It crashed when you tried to start it up?

Son: Yes.

Dad: So what happened?

Son: What happened, when?

Dad: What happened after you started up? Did it go forwards, backwards, fast, slow? What happened?

Son: Nothing happened.

Dad: But you just said it crashed?

Son: Yeah, it did.

Dad: Tell me exactly what happened when you tried to start it up.

Son: Nothing happened.

Dad: Nothing happened? No noise. No sound. Nothing?

Son: Yeah. Nothing happened. Just a click when I turned the metal thing I’ve got on the ring next to the Yale I use to get in the front door of the house.

Dad: The key?

Son: Whatever. I’m not technical. Anyway, it didn’t make that whirry noise it usually makes.

Dad: So what you’re saying is… the car won’t start?

Son: Yes! And I’m late for work! And you spending five minutes asking me stupid questions isn’t helping! Now what are you going to do about it?

And that’s over the phone. When you’re conducting the conversation via an exchange of emails it can sometimes take all day just to establish what happened, sometimes going through several versions of my personal favourite: sending them an email whose body consisting entirely of a single, yes or no, questions, to which they send a reply that manages to say neither yes, nor no.

A Vet’s Guide To Treating Dinosaurs

A friend of mine, Andrew Knight, is a vet with a sideline in writing, and a few days ago he sent me a link to one of his latest articles, written after a visit to the Natural History Museum had started him thinking about the injuries dinosaurs could suffer and how one might treat them.

Given the likelihood of sudden twisting and turning forces exerted on the stifle joint whilst attempting to capture far smaller (and, hopefully, more agile) veterinary staff – possibly following an attempted rectal temperature check – such an injury would not seem improbable.

It’s written for a Veterinary magazine, so it’s a bit technical. But it made me laugh, so I thought I’d share it here.

“Learning about some of the largest of patients” – by Andrew Knight.

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