Stray Thoughts Archive (22-23)

No. 22 - Would have appeared in Cambrensis issue 68, November, 2006, if not for the magazine's sad closure.

* The other day in a Tesco supermarket I came across an advertisement that read 'Accessorize Your Armpits'. Do they want to take over the language as well as the country? Hmm.

* After my celebration of the word 'product' in the Stray Thoughts of Cambrensis 62, I've been asked what other words would set my bullshit detector spinning. There are too many of them to list, but how about 'choice', 'reform' and 'agenda' for starters? But, in the words of the old song, 'it ain't what you say it's the way that you say it'. That's what gets results.

* Or perhaps it's the singer not the song? 'Democracy' implies an altogether different concept when used in a Texan mouth.

* John Merritt wrote to The Times to give a definition of an intellectual: 'a person who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger'.

* Or you may prefer this: 'someone who, when left alone in a room with a woolly tea cosy, resists the urge to put it on his head.'

* Why do all Radio 2 DJ's sound like 'Steve Wright in the Afternoon', even those who grace the airwaves in the morning? And why does Wright himself sound like David Hamilton. And why (etc.)?

* According to an article in the Independent, 1.3 billion Chinese produce 3.8 billion tons of sewage a day. We'll never keep up with such productivity.

* Don't you think that Tony Blair's downfall being heralded by the peerages-for-sale scandal is a bit like Al Capone being gaoled for tax evasion?

* We're not going to suffer 'Digit Al' for the next three or four years, are we, for goodness sake? Even in my infant school he would have been regarded as too infantile. And that expensive TV campaign and brochure tell you so very little. This isn't 'dumbing down'. It's nappying down.

* Why is it that those who have the most boring conversations insist on having them loudly and publicly on mobile phones; those with the worst taste in music play it most thumpingly on their car stereos with their sidescreens down; and those with the yappiest dogs leave them untended for longest?

* Irony of the year: I was asked to provide a footnote explaining 'The Iron Curtain' for the title story of my collection Checkpoint. It's being published in Romania.

* I see that the Government is likely to quietly drop its ID Card nonsense. Let's hope so. Perhaps a few other daft ideas will go at the same time. Like the thought that any bunch of bossy bureaucrats can know all the answers to life, the Universe, and everything. Though perhaps this one's our fault.

* Roman Abramovich paid 285,000 for the 'VIP 1' number plate. '1 DIC' not available?

* Dashes are fast becoming the lazy writer's preferred form of punctuation. Even the double-dash has its proper place in the scheme of things, but the dash is now pressed into all kinds of service.

* The only mystery about Zinedine Zidane's much-replayed World Cup head-butt is why it wasn't delivered to the bridge of Marco Materazzi's nose. Any clues? Answers on a postcard to FIFA.

* Robert Nisbet writes to give me another Richard Sheridan story. Sheridan was once in debate in the Commons when an opponent claimed 'I verily do believe that the Right Honourable gentleman will come to be hanged or to die of the pox'. The reply from the playwright was: 'That will depend, sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.' Robert also tells me that Sheridan's ambitions were originally political more than literary. He is said to have turned aside to write The Rivals in a fit of pique after he hadn't got the job of Foreign Secretary.

No. 23 - An on-line only edition, covering the period (roughly) September, 2006 - April 2007.

* James Egan writes to the IoS to ask if, in view of the concern Tony Blair has for the people of Iraq, 'could he not consider doing 12 months voluntary work in a Baghdad hospital after he leaves office?' I'm sure he would, but unfortunately he's already got a $erious job lined up in America.

* The Western Mail recently ran a feature on a poll for the '15 greatest living Welsh figures'. I hope you took this very seriously: 'hundreds of people' took part in the poll.

* Don't believe it if you get an e-mail from a robot called Maxine offering to 'Blast your ad to millions!' She blasts most of them to me.

* Texas Tom is to have his scenes of one-handed cigarette rolling painted out frame-by-frame from a 1950 cartoon for the Boomerang TV channel. That'll please Jerry no end.

* I knew the spelling of 'fillip', but Chris Williams told me it also means 'a snap of the fingers'. Still, I'd try to find some other way of lifting a restaurant waiter's day if I were you.

* 'Skipping is the knees' way of laughing'. says The Guardian.

* Do we have to put up with the Domestos rubber-sucker germ singing about 'people vom'?

* I'd been trying to find a copy of Dennis Lewis's novel, The Corrupted, in Waterstones book shop. Eventually I found just one copy - buried among the tourist guides and whatnot in 'Local Interest'. Do we have so little faith in our home-grown writers?

* Acronyms can be a doubtful source of etymology. 'Posh' is reputed to come from 'Port out and starboard home', whereas its real origin is unknown. The offensive 'wog' is often ascribed to 'westernised oriental gentleman', whereas the word is more likely a short form of 'golliwog'. Meanwhile, 'Chav' is currently being assigned to 'council house and violent', whereas it really come from the old Romany word 'chavi' for 'bloke' (originally 'girl'). In future years we'll read that 'Womd' (as the need for a pronounceable acronym will make it) comes from 'weapons of mass destruction', whereas we now know it really comes from 'words of mass deception'.

* I wish the TV weather people would stop saying 'a lump of cloud'. It may have sounded cutesy the first time, but I counted it being used four times in a single forecast recently.

* 'Blair speaks of staying [in Iraq] until the job is finished,' says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. 'What job? The only job he can mean is his own.'

* I recently found an interesting story about a distant relative of mine, Gareth Jones. In the 1930s he did some staggering investigative journalism for the Western Mail in Manchuria, and was also known as 'the hero of the Ukraine'. Can you imagine one of our local journalists doing that today?

* We must be running out of news. The front-page headline in an April Western Mail was about the complaint from a designer about 'celeb-designers'. He obviously fancies himself as a celeb.

* It wasn't that I planned for this to be a 'grouch about the Western Mail special'. But a feature in the 'National Newspaper of Wales' was about 'Britain's best celebrity hat wearer.' Do they wonder why the circulation of all newspapers is going down?

* Or is this really yet another 'grouch about Blair special'? You'll have heard of his agreement with David Frost's comment that the Iraq invasion was a disaster? Downing Street was quick to say that this was just a slip of the tongue; that he wasn't properly listening to what was being said. I can believe that. He's got an inglorious record of not listening to what was being said.

* And talking about grouching, TJ Davies tells me that 'Groucho' (as in Marx) comes from the 'Grouch-Pouch' in which vaudeville artists carried enough money to get them home if a job didn't pay up ... a circumstance that would make anyone ... Grouchy.

* Jim Crace's otherwise excellent novel, The Pesthouse, was marred for me because of the American spellings. It's set in America right enough, but was written in the Midlands.

* Writing in his Tribune column of 28 March, 1947, George Orwell referred to 'recent rumours that this was the beginning of another Ice Age'. Global cooling?

Robert Nisbet sent me a number of pieces that would have appeared in Stray Thoughts.
Here they are:

* How about there being be a banned list of terms that are well past their sell-by date. 'Postcode lottery' would be high on his own list.

* Who validates the TV news 'analysts' and 'experts'?. 'Media analysts' bore us by dissecting the affairs of minor 'celebs'. 'Retail analysts' pontificate earnestly that if M&S sell more goods, they will increase their profits. Once he even heard an analyst billed as a 'happiness expert'.

* Robert saw a job advert from Swansea University for an 'Entrepreneurship Development Officer'. He thought that bad enough, but saw that the person appointed will have to draw upon something called the 'Knowledge Exploitation Fund'. He says he knew that the exploitation of knowledge has worked its way through from the Spanish Inquisition to the Kremlin, but couldn't quite believe that there were grants for it in the UK.


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