Editing and polishing

fountain pen

How confident are you about your written English? It has become the global language of business, and much else. It is fast becoming the first-choice second language around the world, and young people going into business, media and public life often see English as a vital skill.

You may speak excellent English, but written English is a different thing. The language is idiosyncratic, and constantly evolving, so what was good style 20 years ago can come across now as stilted, old-fashioned, inappropriate.

Professionals working now are still using the English they were taught at school from text books that may have been written 20 years before that – even if their spoken English is right up to date.

One of my favourite kinds of work is polishing poor English, either written by people who aren’t native English speakers, or translated badly by an agency using non-natives. I love editing far more than I love writing, and it’s fun taking a piece of substandard text and giving it a scrub and a good buffing to bring it up to a linguistic shine.

Sometimes it’s amending minor…  Read more

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English sounds

For a while, I taught the beginnings of English language to kids at the village school, as well as a couple of private students. I’m not trained to teach language, so I realised that the best thing I could pass on was not grammar, but pronunciation. I have something close to a BBC accent – a standard English sound, not a regional accent – so everyone agreed this was of some value.

Here’s one of the little scripts I wrote to help kids learn the various different ways you can spell the vowel sound <ai>. Complete nonsense, of course, but the kids liked them.

I spy with my little eye

As I lie by the Wye drinking nice dry white Rhine wine, a guy in a nylon tie comes by.

‘Hi! Can I buy you a Mai-Tai? You caught my eye. I’m Dai, by the way. Dai Bligh from the Tyne.’ The guy slapped his thigh.

I reply, wryly: “I’ll have a rye over ice…..”

Read the rest


Along the same lines, here’s the A-D of Arabella’s Alphabet:

A is for Angel, for Archer and All

B is a Bicycle, Blue, Bat and Ball

C is for Cinema, Corkscrew and Chess

D is for Duckling and Darling and Dress

Here’s E-Z

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Culture is a movable feast

Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 for the Free Thinking Festival in 2008

The unPC cultural Gene meme

The unPC cultural Gene meme

The truth depends on where you’re standing, and when.

Culture changes, from year to year and from place to place. Attitudes in one postcode can be markedly different to those in the next. From SW2 (Brixton) to SW3 (Chelsea); in Liverpool from L8 (Toxteth) to adjoining L17 (Sefton Park).

Twenty years ago, when I announced I was moving to Liverpool, people said: ‘Are you mad?’ Brought up in rural West Sussex, I suppose I was an unlikely convert, especially in 1988 when this was a pariah city, the epitome of political and economic disaster; but I found it charming, and inspiring, hot-headed and warm-hearted. I love it…. (read more)

Liverpool en fete

Liverpool en fete

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Can an enterprise culture really improve lives?

Enterprise is not just another word for business. It’s a mindset, a way of approaching life, a way of looking at things. Enterprise is always innovative, finding new things to do and make, or new ways to do it.

Famous entrepreneurs are mostly in the business world, so enterprise has become synonymous with rich and famous corporate names, but you find enterprise and innovation at home, in schools, in sport, in art, in hospitals, in the forest, on the road, in the street… everywhere.

Entrepreneurs can see ways to turn loss into profit, turn dross into gold, turn time into money. Enterprise can happen in the hour before school, after a shift or the weeks between contracts. It can be part-time or full-time; be a solo effort, a community co-operative or a private company. It can make a few extra coins, or headline news

What every enterprise does, though, is to take a step forward, use the hearts and minds and energy of everyone involved, make a positive out of a negative, something out of nothing, movement out of stagnation.  Read more…

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Getting a buzz at Pixar

It was one of those once-only days, a bright November day when I was on a wine bottling line opposite John Lasseter, Oscar-winning director of Toy Story and creative head of Pixar Animation Studios, whose latest release Up hit the screens last week. We two were the label-gluers, getting coated in PVA as we readied labels for sticking on bottles.


Lasseter with Buzz and Woody

In a chicken shed on a back road in California that day were two dozen people, a tank of red wine, bottles, corks, labels, glue, foil, and boxes. It was 1995, a year after Toy Story had hit the movie headlines, and we were all singing and dancing to the mariachi band Lasseter had brought along, as we filled, corked, labelled and boxed the previous year’s vintage.

The bottling done, the partying began, back at the Lasseter house. With a large attic knee-deep in toys, two Oscar statuettes on the mantelpiece downstairs, five kids and another on the way, washable textiles, bounceable furniture and replaceable stuff, this was a child-centred house. Figured.

At some point, Lasseter asked if I wanted to come down to the studios for a look round. After I’d pinched myself very hard, Lasseter hadn’t disappeared and the invitation was still open.  Read more…

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Love thy customer

Customer service is one of those nebulous concepts that we all know are vitDSC_0074_2ally important to our working lives, but it’s hard to remember that the customer is king when said king is blatantly wrong, plain cussed, or exhibits vulgar taste.

When the wretched customer hasn’t even bought anything, it is even harder to resist telling them exactly what one thinks of them. Visitor destinations (what we used to call tourist traps) for example: even though we pay nothing to get in and gawp at the marvels on offer, we feel like customers and expect to be treated as such.

Yesterday morning, I wasn’t. After an encounter with a guide at Liverpool Cathedral, I was left shaking, feeling like a small child being berated by the school janitor.  Read more…

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Dying to tell you…

More people die than are ever born: death is the one common experience of all living things. So why do we try so hard to pretend it won’t happen to us?

IMG_3902_2 graveyardWe are, as a society, squeamish about death and dying, so that faced with the bereaved, we don’t know how to cope, what to do or say, or how soon we can start being normal again.

It’ll be a whole lot easier, I suppose, when it’s me that kicks the bucket. Nothing to do but lie there and be done to. God, I hope so. How appalling if it turns out that I’m going to have to float about like a bit of steam, watching in fury as amateur family members fumble through my funeral and put some god-awful song from Cats over the speakers as the curtains swish discreetly around my coffin. I want the third of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, if my executors are reading this.

It’s an easy game, being flippant about one’s demise. What wasn’t easy was watching my sister die, too bloody fast and too bloody slowly, of an aggressive cancer that gave her months of excruciating pain. She was 56, fit, strong, tough, and it was her husband who’d had a major heart attack less than a year before. Read more…

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Sex and death in the afternoon

Over the weekend I watched a feature length spectacle of romance and murder – live, right in front of me. This was X-rated stuff; all hearts and flowers for an hour, then a short and violent sex scene, with a chilling finale.

Really…. not in a nice middle class garden, please.

spider babeI was sitting in the shade, reading Sense and Sensibility again, with a long glass of melting ice at my elbow. My garden was full of stripey orb weaver spiders, their exquisite webs strung about, waiting for lunch to buzz in. One spectacular web was a good ten inches across, the main suspension cable anchored to the wall at one end and hooked to a branch of the Japanese acer about three feet away. Its creator was a huge madam, her body fully rounded, with six long elegant legs – a bit of a spider babe, if you ask me. She’d been there for at least a week and by the look of her had picked a good strategic spot to catch lunch on the wing.

All was quiet, apart from the whizzing of insects and the chatter of my blackbirds; then on the edge of my vision was movement…  Read more

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If that surprised you… you should get out more.

But I’m glad you’re here. Welcome to the pages and pages of scribbling and nonsense that have appeared under my name over the last twenty years. Surely not. But it’s longer than that I’ve been publishing prose and a few dreadful poems.

I’ll spare you the poems, for now. If you’re very naughty, you might have to read some later.

The pieces have been stuffed into divers pigeonholes to make it easier to sort the sleep from the coats – slide along the top menu bar to find things that appeal to you.

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