Thursday 28 June 2012

Proofreading test - not!


I was interrupted a few moments ago by a text from my son's school. He has finished all his A-level exams and has to go in tomorrow to sign off officially. This is the text:

Your son needs to come in at 10.00am tomorrow and sign off. They must return all books, cd's etc, as well as, ID badges and landyards, keys & passes.

So few words, so many errors. My son says I'm like the Grammar Nazi Party and that there are more important things to worry about. Perhaps he's right; but this text was sent by the woman who is head of the Sixth Form and she is an English teacher.

Abandon hope...

Monday 25 June 2012

Have you had your daily llama?

Llama Oscar - stud male
What are you looking at?

With a group of friends, I took a lovely ramble through the south Northants countryside yesterday. We'd had torrential rain overnight so I was half-expecting it to be called off, but at the last minute the clouds parted and out came the sun. So there I was, ambling through a little piece of rural idyll, wild flowers all around, kites and buzzards soaring overhead and a llama at my side.

Yes, that's right, a llama. We were visiting Catanger Farm for a spot of llama trekking. I had envisaged a gentle stroll with a beautiful, docile animal beside me, in keeping with the publicity leaflet’s promise of ‘the perfect way to de-stress’. Well, it was a lovely morning, but thanks to the standing water up to my knees, shoulder-high wet grass, tenacious mud and borrowed wellies a size too big, it was actually quite challenging.

Llamas are incredible, ridiculous creatures. Perfectly adapted for life at high altitude, they have two expressions: startled and bewildered. I’d sum them up as jittery but harmless. They have no top teeth to bite with and their soft-pad feet don’t have hooves, so while a kick might take you by surprise it’s not going to break your leg. Yes, they spit when they’re angry – but who doesn’t! The only noise they make is a nervous-sounding hum.

So after an introductory talk, nine of us set off on a two-hour walk under mercifully blue skies with five llamas between us, taking it in turns to lead them – and sometimes to be led by them. Once you’ve got the hang of it they’re pretty easy to steer, but I must confess that at one point I let go of my llama Indigo and he bounced off into a field of rape from which only the tips of his ears protruded.

The whole experience was rather surreal, but I'd definitely recommend it as a different way of recharging your batteries.

Friday 22 June 2012

Free-to-enter competition

The A.Vogel Story Competition logoI've had an email today from 'Your Healthy Living' promoting its new competition: 'Write a short story for bedtime' - details here. With no entry fee and a first prize of £500 that's got to be worth a go.

Trouble is, I've got a lot of 'proper' work on at the moment. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad to be busy. But I always seem to get lots of ideas for other things to be doing the moment the phone starts ringing or projects land in my email inbox. I must prioritise.

One thing that has taken up a lot of time today is a series of, shall we say, conversations with the Customer Service bods at Phones 4U. I'll spare you the grizzly details, suffice to say that it's amazing how obliging people can be when you ask to be put through to the Cancellations Department.

I'm singing in a concert later on today: 'Music For a Summer's Evening'. Pity we haven't got the weather to match. Think of me shivering in the church, fa-la-la-ing my heart out!

Wednesday 20 June 2012

What's on your CV?

Cheers, Norm!
A potential client asked to see my CV the other day. This threw me. Most of the work I do is freelance assignments that have come my way by word of mouth: perhaps an editor I have worked with will be approached to do a job he doesn’t have time for – or just doesn’t fancy – and passes it on to me. I can’t remember the last time anyone asked to see my credentials.

So it was a good excuse to look over what I’ve done and to update my records. I have two versions of my CV. One has on it everything that I have ever done, all the way back to the schools I attended. No one is ever going to want to know that, of course, but I might be glad it’s written down somewhere when my memory starts to go – or perhaps – ahem – I’ll become famous enough for someone to want to write my biography and they might be glad of the basics.

I’ve also got a shorter version that outlines all the publishing and word-related jobs I’ve done over the years. These days you need a relevant degree to get into publishing, but I sneaked in through the back door. I was secretary to an editor in a company producing part works. Did you ever collect recipe cards that were delivered by the postman in handy monthly instalments? Chances are they came from Odhams Leisure, and that’s where I first picked up a red pen. When my boss left, I took over her job and found that my nitpicking approach to spelling and punctuation, combined with an inherent desire to control everything around me, made me a born editor.

I’ve never looked back. I’ve worked on all manner of topics, from motor racing to crochet, from gardening to steam engines. If only I’d retained everything I’d read, I’d be a shoe-in on The Million Pound Drop! Sadly, although I’m fully immersed in the subject while I’m doing the job, as soon as it’s done I forget most of it.

I suppose it was inevitable that I should gravitate towards writing my own stuff. My CV records that I once wrote something for a magazine published by the Diocese of Peterborough. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was! I’ve also compiled crosswords, some cryptic or general knowledge, but others for marketing use or company magazines, including on the themes of Shakespeare, Lincolnshire - and yoghurt. Never let it be said that I’m not versatile!

It’s been good to take a walk down memory lane. When I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to end up. Now here I am, broadcasting over the internet – which we didn’t even have when I set off on my work life journey. As Fatboy Slim put it, ‘You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby’.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Althorp Literary Festival follow-up

I had a lovely day yesterday at Althorp, milling around the beautiful house and gardens, hanging out with Earl Spencer (really - he was just there, tall, handsome and charming, mingling, chatting and signing books) and feeling alternately inspired and overwhelmed.

Clouds That Look Like Things: From the Cloud Appreciation Society There were two streams of talks. I chose: Michael Frayn over John Challis ('Boycie');  Gavin Pretor-Pinney over Claire Tomalin; Sir Timothy Ackroyd's performance of Dickens' The Signalman over Jeremy  Vine; and Alison Weir over Antony Beevor. I also went to a very serious and intense presentation by Sandy Gall.

Two themes kept cropping up. The first was how often books had arisen from the question: what if? Those idle musings that we all have shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, but should be pursued and developed. Gavin PP, for instance, was asked to give a talk on his favourite subject, clouds, some years ago. Casting around for a catchy title, he invented The Cloud Appreciation Society and called his session the inaugural lecture of said (at the time non-existent) organisation. The talk went well, and at the end audience members approached him and asked how they could join. So he got himself a website and off he went. Books followed. Simples!

The second theme was the importance of research: how it is essential for solid foundations and credibility, but that it should not be constraining. Rather, it is the starting point for the expansion of ideas. In order words, writing is hard work.

Friday 15 June 2012

Losing my grip?

stock vector : Woman in lotus position with the seven chakrasIt wasn't until I was getting ready for bed last night that I realised I had spent the whole of Thursday with a blue earring in one lobe and a purple one in the other. If anyone noticed they didn't tell me. Perhaps they thought I was being ultra-trendy or that it was a yoga chakra thing, balancing throat and head. Nah, I'm just losing it.

Sunday 10 June 2012

A cause for celebration

We had a rare family day out yesterday. We all went to Ely Cathedral for a day of pomp and circumstance – my husband’s graduation ceremony, where he was awarded an Open University degree. (Apart from anything else, it was nice to see him and my two sons wearing their smart suits without there being a hearse in the background!)
The boy done good
We were so proud of him and cheered loudly when his name was called out and he stepped nervously on to the stage. BSc. Wow! Anyone reading this from Mayfield Primary School? That’ll teach you to write off a seven-year-old! He may have been a late bloomer, but he has really made up for lost time. It just goes to show that it’s never too late to start learning. You just have to be willing to take a chance and go for it.
There were people of all ages and from all walks of life amongst the graduates. The OU has at last shrugged off its ’70s image of beardy professors droning on in the middle of the night. It is a modern, vibrant university and truly is an open organisation. Long may it continue.
The cathedral grounds were littered with groups of families and friends taking photos of their own star of the day, decked out in academic gowns. But in one corner of the gardens there was a clutch of, what, tramps? Down-and-outs? I don’t know what you’d call them. But they were grubby and shabby and sharing a huge bottle of cider. I couldn’t help wondering what had led them there, such a contrast to the celebrations going on around them. Nature or nurture? Lack of opportunity or simply poor life choices? Who knows. And I wonder what they thought of us?
Anyway, what next for my husband? He has spent the last few years with his nose on the ground and a glass to his eye looking at fossils, except when he has been flat on his back in a field looking at the stars. He knows more about cloud formations that anyone needs to and can tell you what rocks lie under the ground you’re walking on.
So he knows why areas where there is millstone grit tend to produce great ale. You see, it’s not just that he likes a pint, it’s also an intellectual pursuit. At least, that's what he tells me.

Saturday 9 June 2012

A lesson in tenacity

This little pansy has made a home for itself in the tiny gap between my back door step and the paving stones. There can't be any soil there, and it is right in the path of traffic - and when you think that two members of my household have size 11 feet and the other two have a clumsy gene, it's a wonder it has survived. Yet there it sits, flowering defiantly. I'm not sure where it came from, although we did have some winter pansies 18 months ago, so perhaps it's a self-set seedling from then. Isn't nature amazing?

Thursday 7 June 2012

Yoga in the air!

An enquiry from a potential student led me to look up 'anti-gravity yoga' on t'internet. Never heard of it? No, me neither.

Now, it could surely be argued that all yoga is anti-gravity in the sense that we work against it in postures - and practise our inversions in the probably vain hope that we can reverse gravity's ageing effects. But this wondrous system involves hanging from the ceiling in a fabric sling and then using the sling to support the body in stretches and extensions. Remember that old BBC ident with the ladies tumbling from the ceiling on red ribbons? Yes, just like that.
Click here to book an  Aerial Yoga Class - Antigravity Yoga NYC
I have to say it looks tremendous fun and I wouldn't mind having a go. For instance, with feet supported in opposite directions it would be pretty hard NOT to do the splits (or Hanumanasana, to use the Sanskrit); but is that really a good thing? Unless I want to run away and join the circus - and don't think I haven't been tempted occasionally - would I not be better to work on my strength and flexibility until I can ease myself into position 'naturally', as it were? What if I slip out of the sling? Isn't there a very real chance I could land on my head?

Given that I was born with a clumsy gene, I think I'll keep my yoga practice mat-bound.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Come on, England!

stock photo : A line of Union Jack flags, stretched across a clear blue sky. Space for text either side of the flagsThe bunting has been strung, Union Jacks tethered and, as I write this, the vessels are mustering at Hammersmith and Battersea. Yes, the Jubilee weekend is well and truly underway. There’s nothing we Brits like more than an excuse to dust off our patriotism and order a party-platter.

Whatever your views on the monarchy, the Queen does a fantastic job of bringing us together. In fact, this sense of unity, is, I think, the single most significant feature of her reign. Governments come and go, and  political crises dog every generation, but the House of Windsor endures. Tomorrow, we shall go back to ignoring our neighbours, but today the forced bonhomie of a street party will bring together people who haven’t spoken to each since they  moved into the neighbourhood. Children will be wearing red, white and blue, pensioners will be reminiscing about the Coronation, and dads stoking up the barbecue while their wives hover anxiously making sure everyone has enough to eat and is ‘having a nice time’. 

It's the taking part...
Pity, then, that it’s raining. So what? Put up a waterproof gazebo, dig out your cagoule and light the chimenea. On with the show! And after watching poor old Engelbert get trounced in the Eurovision Song Contest we need something to celebrate.

 The choir I sing with is preparing for its summer concert in a few weeks’ time, under the banner 'Merrie England', and yes, we are singing some extracts from this august work. Composed by Edward German, it is a comic opera first produced at the Savoy Theatre in London in 1902 about love and rivalry in the court of Elizabeth I. It contains such stirring works as ‘The Yeomen of England’, and it does make me laugh, though not necessarily in the way intended. I can be such a philistine.

I wouldn’t want to see an end to the monarchy – and definitely not as the result of a violent uprising – but there are elements of the institution that make me uneasy: all those rooms in palaces while people sleep on the streets, for instance. But it’s better than the alternative.

Anyway, we’ve just about got time to put away the Union Jacks before we have to put up the England flags ready for the football extravaganza that is Euro 2012. We – and by that I mean the England team, for they are us and we are them, apparently – we just have to get past France, the Ukraine and Sweden, and we’re through to the next round. 

Of course, if we don’t, it’ll all be over by the 19th and Roy Hodgson will be looking for a new job.