Monthly Archives: March 2013




I sometimes think we must be turning into a nation of parrots. No sooner does someone use a new piece of jargon than everyone else starts to use it too. We’ve become lazy, blindly following others like a load of fuzzy-brains trailing after a not-very-literate pied piper. Or maybe we think that if a politician or a ‘celeb’ uses an expression it makes us look good if we use it to.

In earlier posts I have berated the BBC in particular for perpetrating this laziness. And there’s no doubt that their continuity announcers, presenters and newsreaders are among the worst offenders. However, it’s hard to see which came first, the politician who says ‘going forward’, the journalist who persists in repeating it or the public who parrot it.  I guess everyone’s to blame. It’s as if once someone has used a particular phrase everyone else gets collective amnesia and seems incapable of remembering that there are other ways of saying the same thing.

Below I’ve listed a few of my pet hates. Just a few, I’m sparing you. They won’t be everyone’s pet hates, but they have me screaming at the radio and, on occasion, throwing things. I no longer have a cat to frighten in this way, which is a good thing, but even so I often wonder if my neighbour can hear me through the wall.

At a young age. Why?  What in the name of all that’s holy is wrong with ‘when I was young?’ Or ‘We should learn that when young’, not ‘at a young age’. I don’t know when this one crept in but it’s driving me insane.

Wrong doing. This so unnecessary. Why can’t they say ‘accused of a crime’ or  ‘not guilty of any crime’ or ‘not guilty of doing anything wrong’ or simply ‘not guilty’?  It doesn’t take much longer to say.

Loved ones. Here’s another one that sets my teeth on edge. Like the others it’s a sort of unthinking shorthand. What’s wrong with ‘family’ or if it’s a wider group ‘family and friends’, ‘friend’s and colleagues’ and other such permutations? I mean ‘loved ones’ isn’t necessarily accurate, if that is what you were aiming for, which I doubt. After all you don’t necessarily love your family.

Going forward. Oh spare us! What does it mean? What’s wrong with ‘in future’, or ‘next time’ or some other precise expression? Listen carefully next time you hear someone say it (you won’t have long to wait). You’ll discover that, in most instances, it means absolutely nothing. It’s like a verbal twitch.

Ahead of. There is some excuse for this one. Sometimes. But it’s not to be used in parrot fashion.  For instance, if the future event is to take place very soon after the event that it is ‘ahead of’, then it makes sense. If the event is some way in the future, then why not use the good old word ‘before’?

Hard working families. Another weaselly bit of political speak. How do they know these families are hard working? Is this an aspiration or a fact? Are they implying that only hard working families deserve whatever hollow carrot is being dangled before them? What about those of us who aren’t in families? The single people? The divorced? The widowed? For my part I find this expression insulting in the extreme. And lazy. And unthinking. And well, just what I’d expect from a politician.

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Inventive Silliness

It’s a while since I posted anything quirky or weird or unusual. So I think a little silliness is in order. I came across this video during the week and it appealed to my rather strange sense of humour. I do find it a bit worrying too, since it involves working animals. I hope the sheep didn’t feel humiliated and that they weren’t worried by the twinkly coats. Even more, I hope they weren’t frightened.

Someone posted a comment to the effect that the sheep should have been given a credit and I heartily agree. They did all the work. And there’s no way any of it could have happened without the splendid and intelligent sheep dogs. And they didn’t get a credit either.  I love this video for it’s inventiveness and fun but I’m somewhat annoyed that the shepherds have grabbed all the credit and still a little concerned about the animals involved.

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Crime as Entertainment


1. Elizabeth and Tess

When Elizabeth Martha Brown took an axe to her husband on 6th July, 1856, she neither knew, nor would she have cared, that she was to play a part in the writing of one of English literature’s most important works. Nor could the young apprentice who witnessed her public hanging have guessed that the sight of it would influence a novel he was to write more than thirty years into the future.

Elizabeth claimed to have discovered her husband on the doorstep of their cottage covered with blood, groaning that ‘the horse’ had kicked him. The fact that it took her two hours to go for help was, she insisted, because he had clung to her so tightly she couldn’t get away. By the time help arrived, he was dead.

No one believed her story about the horse. The horse was still in the field, its hooves manifestly lacking any traces of blood. The gate was shut and the halter hadn’t been touched.  Elizabeth had claimed too that her clothes had been covered in blood but they couldn’t be found. The axe was missing too. And to top it all, the coroner found that the wounds couldn’t have been caused by a kick from a horse.

On 21st July 1856 Elizabeth was found guilty by the jury at Dorchester Crown Court, and later confessed to the murder. She was sentenced to a public hanging. Among the spectators was the young Thomas Hardy, at that time apprenticed to a local architect. He was deeply moved by Elizabeth’s stoicism, as she walked silently to her death. There was more.

One of the hangman’s duties was to tie the dress of females, to spare their modesty. On this occasion the hangman, Calcraft, forgot. He had to climb back up afterwards to do it. The whole episode gave a sexual charge to the event. To add to the drama it was raining so that the hood that covered Elizabeth’s head clung to her face, showing her features plainly for all to see.

When he wrote Tess of the D’Urbervilles, nearly 35 years later, Hardy wasn’t telling Elizabeth’s story.  The story of Tess is very different. Nevertheless Hardy has admitted that he was thinking of Elizabeth when he was writing the novel, he had in his mind those images of her public hanging, all those years ago. The sexual charge felt by the readers of Tess has its genesis there.

I am indebted to Steve Haste’s book, Criminal Sentences, for the facts in this post. It’s a wonderful full-length study of the ways in which true crime has influenced fiction, film and drama. It is well worth reading, full of fascinating information.

Crime as Entertainment was the title of my dissertation for the MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam. It’s a fascinating subject, which raises many ethical and moral questions as well as offering a wide variety of real and fictional stories. So I hope this may be just the first in an occasional series of posts on the subject.

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International Women’s Day: collaboration not separation

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” Gloria Steinem

International Women’s Day was first marked as long ago as 1911, inspired in part by the first national Women’s Day, which took place in America in 2008. Initially its aim was to promote equal rights including suffrage for women. For many years it was predominately celebrated in communist countries, only really taking off in the West after the United Nations General Assembly asked member states to set aside March 8th as the day for Women’s Rights and World Peace.

I’m slightly in two minds about having special days to mark special things. I think if there are problems we should be constantly mindful of them, always striving where possible to try and make things better. That is, I admit, a counsel of perfection. Nevertheless, specially designated days do risk attracting as much negative as positive feelings. Just as certain expressions have been twisted, or formalized, to mean things they were never meant to mean. ‘Human Rights’ is a case in point, where so often fairness, justice and common sense go out of the window. And the people whose rights are being trampled on go on being abused, tortured and trampled on.

All that said there are some issues that are just too important to ignore. While International Women’s Day celebrates achievement, its greater role is to highlight issues that cry out for change. Themes such as displacement and poverty have been chosen in previous years. This year, 2013, the UN theme concerns violence against women. The International Women’s Day theme is gender. I can’t really see why there can’t just be one theme; it does seem a bit odd. Not that both themes are not crucial, but two? Doesn’t say a lot about unity.

Funnily enough, my thoughts about both these themes have to do with unity. Which is why the Gloria Steinem quote is at the top. There is absolutely no doubt that attitudes towards women have changed for the better. However, women are still not paid equally, they are not represented proportionately in business or politics, in so many situations here and abroad they are most definitely treated as second class citizens or as chattels, not even citizens. Many cultures are abusive towards women. I run out of words to express the anger and impotence I feel when I read about some of the sickening and obscene treatment that is meted out. Nevertheless, while we have a better record than many, we have absolutely no reason to be complacent. One woman in every four in the UK will experience domestic violence. One in four. More than two women in the UK are killed by partners or ex-partners every week.

Of course most of these acts are committed by men against women. Without in any way diminishing the suffering of individual men, it’s still women in general who bear the brunt of it. Nevertheless, while I’m a great believer in supporting and advocating the cause of women, I don’t believe in man-bashing either. Rather I think we should welcome those many men who are on our side. When I think of all the gentle, kind, intelligent and thoughtful men I know. My brother, my nephews, my friends, my in- laws and outlaws (once in our family, you are always part of our family!) When I hear people going on about men, talking against men, I wonder how those men must feel. The good ones. The ones who would never harm anyone. The ones who love women.

What must it be like to be regarded as the enemy? Of course they are not the enemy, but it must sometimes feel like that. We mustn’t let them feel like that. Feminism got a bad name because at times it became strident and maybe that was necessary then. Now we are in a different place. A place where hopefully we can collaborate. Not because we women are too weak to do it on our own. Of course we could and can do it on our own. But why do it on our own when we can do it together.

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