Monthly Archives: October 2013

Travels with Ruth

Oh dear!

Look what happens in my school if you accidentally leave a book unattended for a couple of minutes!





Along with the following quotation

Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white. – Mark Jenkins

So, after many days away I have returned, this time to be loved, cherished and above all not forgotten.

I also want to say that if you ever change your mind and decide you would like to be lost, I’ll be waiting You’re my kind of time being, too.


A Tale For The Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

I am currently reading the Man Booker nominated A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It’s part of my usual Man Booker trawl through the Shortlist at about my birthday time. I’ve mentioned that before on this blog.

In all honesty, I picked up this book rather than some others on the Shortlist because of its cover. What do our mothers and fathers always tell us not to do when judging books? But let me try to put its cover into words…

It is predominantly a white cover. Not quite white. There is a hint of blue to the whiteness. And speckles. If I knew more ornithology I could probably suggest an appropriate bird-egg-analogy. I’d like to say gull egg but that is dictated by my own narrative preferences.

The main design of the cover is in the shape of a circle. A red circle such as could be found on the Japanese flag. But it’s been designed to look like a sticker that is in the process of being peeled off: half folded over and thereby turning a red circle into a red crescent, exposing the white gluey back of it.

As if behind the sticker, there is a ghostly, opaque face. The left eye (on the reader’s right) and nose and mouth are reasonably defined and looking directly at the reader with a rather Mona Lisaesque enigmatic smile. Her hairline, forehead, cheeks and chin fade away.

Beneath her again I’d a seascape: large waves and dark ominous water on the right edge; a coastline towards the top left; seabirds circling towards the top.

Using a very strange app called Blippar, my phone can animate the cover! How cool is that?! We see the red circle being pulled back; the girl’s eye blinks at us, somewhat unnervingly; we see the waves crash; and a hand is seen on the right, filling out a page with writing.

Augmented Reality. Is that what describes this?

The word that springs to my mind is palimpsest: a tablet or page on which writing can be scraped off and overwritten but with echoes and ghosts of the earlier writing beneath.

And that is evoked in the text of the novel: Nao is a Japanese girl – and one of the most vibrant and most engaging first person narrators I have ever read – who picks up a notebook. It is a notebook inside the recycled (or vandalised, depending on your point of view) covers of Marcel Proust’s Á La Recherche Du Temps Perdu. Inspired by and perhaps intimidated by the shade of Proust, Nao uses the diary to pass on the story of and stories from her

great grandmother Yasutani Jiko. She was a nun and a novelist and New Woman of the Taisho era. She was also an anarchist and a feminist who had plenty of lovers, both males and females.


I’m only in the novel by 38 pages so far and don’t know how the story ends but Ozeki interweaves the story of Nao writing her diary with that of Ruth who finds and reads it when it is washed ashore.

I do need to cope with one terrible thing reading this book. Now I know that Ozeki didn’t win the Booker, I’m not sure how to deal with the fact that I’m really going to want her to!



365 days in my shoes Day 289

high heels and high notes


Words we no longer use.

Are there any words you still use that you don’t often hear used by anyone else?

Snoutfair: A person with a handsome countenance — “The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten” by Jeffrey Kacirk

Pussyvan: A flurry, temper — “The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten” by Jeffrey Kacirk


Wonder-wench: A sweetheart — “The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten” by Jeffrey Kacirk

Lunting: Walking while smoking a pipe — John Mactaggart’s “Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia,” 1824


Groak: To silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them –

Jirble: To pour out (a liquid) with an unsteady hand: as, he jirbles out a dram —


Curglaff: The shock felt in bathing when one first plunges into the cold water — John Jamieson’s Etymological Scottish Dictionary, 1808

Spermologer: A…

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The God Particle?


This is, apparently, according to the power of Google image search, something to do with the Higgs Boson particle. I have no idea. Is it what the particle looks like? How it works? How it was discovered? Who knows?

But the Higgs Boson – and the CERN Large Hadron Collider – is something that captured our imagination. I remember Year 8s terrified that a black hole would be created and we’d all be sucked into it; Dan Brown used it to create the threat in Angels and Demons; I’ve read quite an academic and esoteric – by which I mean I only understood 48% of it – treatise in which the Dust of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was compared to the Higgs Boson.

As much as anything, this fear and angst, in my humblest of uneducated opinions – derives from the nickname The God Particle. Could a nickname be more inflammatory? Could science threaten the church in any more obvious way?

And so it was that I genuinely snorted outloud in my car yesterday hearing Radio 4’s Thought For The Day. This is not a common reaction to the sanctified Radio 4’s flagship spiritual reflection. But, according to the Reverend Dr Michael Banner, Leon Lederman was writing a book about the search for the Higgs Boson and was so frustrated by it elusivity that he gave it the title “The God-damned Particle” but his publisher removed the “damned”.

The God-Damned Particle.

A minor piece of censorship that appears to me to have sparked the world’s imagination along very unexpected tangents!

Weasel Words: regularly

Imagine the scene as I drive to work through the rolling countryside of Dorset, through the winding villages of Abbotsbury, the sea heavily to my right and Radio 4 in the background.

“Half of Britons eat porridge regularly,” intone the dulcet tones of John Humphreys or some other lark-minded presenter.


Half of Britons? Regularly?

Sounds like a brilliant news item! Porridge is a fantastic food: economical, tasty and healthy full of slow-release carbohydrates – and a smell which takes me back to my granny’s farmhouse kitchen when I was six. I’m not that keen on the taste I have to say but a divine, comforting smell! Like a thick and heavy woollen jumper!

But really? Half of the country? Regularly?

John Humphrys, or which ever presenter it was, seems also to have questioned the language. What did regularly mean? Apparently, something in the region of ten times a year, less than once a month.

“Regularly” is one of those weasel words which can mean anything you want it to. After all, Santa arrives regularly, albeit once a year! But for a breakfast for which there is an opportunity to take it 365 times a year, I don’t think 10 times classes as regularly: that’s 2.7% of the opportunities available (not including the opportunities to take porridge at other times of the day!). At least Santa arrives on 100% of the available opportunities (even the naughty list receive coal from him and, with energy prices as they are, are probably quids-in!)

So where does its weasliness come from? Etymologically, “regularly” never denoted frequency: from the Latin regula and regularis meaning rules and guidance, the word “regular” actually referred to those who lived according to religious rules in contrast to the secular life.

“Regular” and the adverbial form “regularly”, therefore, have meant, since the fifteenth century, “according to order and at the appropriate time”.

I’m not sure when the idea of frequency has been accepted as part of the meaning of “regular” but it appears to have attached itself to the word almost as an addendum: to occur according to an ordered routine (and reasonably often).

And so it is that a weasel word is born! Want to suggest that something rare is common? Use the word “regularly”! Want to interpret your statistics positively? Use the word “regularly”!

Anyway, for porridge enthusiasts, the Daily Mail also ran the same article here.


Word of The Week: Shuffle

I was deeply disappointed – though hardly surprised – to see that Michael Gove wasn’t re-shuffled in the Political game of Happy Families. Mr Bun the Baker, Mr Field the Farmer and Mr Gove the … Gaffer? The Game Player? The Garbageman? Considering his grip on power and rumours of his being Leader-in-Waiting – one can only hope in a party in Opposition – I suppose we couldn’t expect anything more!

Anyway, complaining about Gove and the Omnishambles which his time in the Department For Education has become was not the point if this blog post. It would feel more at home elsewhere!

No. What I wondered was the aptness of the term “shuffle” itself.

It’s connotations conjure up two images: one of a weak an enfeebled old man in carpet slippers bowed over a walking stick; and a card shark in a a dimly lit backstreet gambling den. Neither of which – I don’t think – Messrs Cameron, Clegg or Milliband intended.

It is such an odd word to use for the purpose!

By definition, it suggests that the selection of ministers is random, like shuffling cards. Looking at some ministers and appointments (Norman Baker to the Home Office?) one might be tempted to agree: where are ministers being given the experience of the areas they now govern? How can you go from the Northern Ireland Office to Work and Pensions without years of training?

For a complete list of those moved, raised and shifted, The Spectator has a good list here.

Milliband’s shuffle has been more of a cull of Blairites!

Cameron’s was an attempt to rebrand the party as anything other than white, posh and male!

Anything except shuffling! Perhaps more “shoving” (which might be an etymological origin of the word “shuffle”)?


Too Embarrassed To Read?


The BBC ran this story on 4th October: reading is on the decrease, despite the lauded rise of the e-book; and one in five of our children would be embarrassed to be caught with a book. “Caught with”? You are caught with cigarettes by your parents; caught with stolen goods by the police; caught with drugs by customs.

You are not caught with books. They should be a staple part of everyone’s equipment along with their house keys, mobile and a pen. And I’m not just talking about school children.


Apparently, according to the article, since 2005, the percentage of children reading outside school fell from 33% to 25% in 2013; and, even more worryingly,

“About the same number said they did not think their parents cared if they read.”

So what can be done?

The National Literacy Trust is seeking literacy heroes to champion a love of reading and books.

Literacy heroes?

Who would be your literacy hero? Who turned you on to reading? For me, perhaps, my mum who was always reading (although, looking back, with very different set of books); maybe a succession of English teachers, especially Mr Moore – Hubert Moore – of Cranbrook School who allowed me to do my A-level English Literature on T. S. Eliot when the rest of the class wanted to do Sylvia Plath!

Turn to your own children, parents of Britain! Be your child’s own literacy and reading hero! Take them, hand in hand, along the lines and lanes, words and woods you loved at their age! Read in front of them. Read to them. Read with them. Listen to them read! Whether they are pre-readers, novice readers or recalcitrant teenagers show them that there are things to broaden their minds and world view beyond the television screen.

#fridayreads on twitter and pages like Coffee And A Good Book on Facebook do help promote reading – as, in some small way, might my own Book Readers’ Sanctuary blog; teachers who model and are seen reading will help – especially male teachers – but it’s often too late by then!

Parents have to inculcate the habit and give time for reading at home and take kids to the library