Friday, 27 July 2012

I'm Going For Gold

So, the London Olympics begin today. I'm looking forward to watching the opening ceremony on TV and heading to London tomorrow to see some events over the weekend. With my unsponsored packed lunch!

What you don't realise is that I'm also taking part. I'm proudly representing my country in the heavyweight category of the How About You All Stop Carping? competition. This is a little-known sport but the rules are this: every time you hear someone being cynical or disparaging of the achievements and hopes of others, you get one point for rolling your eyes, two points for yawning, five points for temporarily blocking them on Twitter (with a conversion giving two extra points if you also hide their Facebook updates) and a whopping ten points for writing a blogpost on the subject. I'm going for gold.

I was pretty ashamed earlier this week to read this article in the NYT. Is this really how others see us? How embarrassing. I plan to fight it. I may be crabbit, and that may mean I’m often grumpy but it does not mean I’m negative or mean-spirited. I see I have competition from the Guardian, where there was an excellent piece today which probably guarantees them a place in the final of the How About You All Stop Carping? comp. I was also delighted by the BBC coverage at lunch today, both the UK news and the Scottish one. No carping there, not a spot of it.

It strikes me that those who take such pleasure in focusing gleefully on any mistakes that are made (or that they expect to be made) are usually those who not only couldn't organise the proverbial piss-up but wouldn't even get off their backsides to try. They tend to be those who don't join organising committees, don't get involved in community activities, don't attempt difficult things. They don't have time because they are too busy disparaging the efforts of others. And that is time-consuming; it also drains the ambition and creativity out of you.

I've loved to bits the wonderful sitcom, Twenty Twelve. And some of the truths they've parodied are real things to discuss and criticize. And yes, some of the things that have been mirrored by reality have been brilliant. The buses getting lost because the drivers had never been to London, for example, hilariously mirrored the first episode. No, I'm not saying we can't laugh when ridiculous things happen or are said or done. I loved the Orwell quote in the Guardian article - when asked why Britain doesn't have the goose-step: because people would laugh.

But there's laughing when something silly goes wrong and then learning from it. (I'm sure whoever showed the wrong Korean flag has learnt from it...) And then there's sneering in advance and doing sod all about it except carrying on sneering and looking out for more and more things to sneer about.

To be clear: I'm not saying you shouldn't complain when things are done badly or that you shouldn't argue against something happening if you think it shouldn't happen. Begin against something or criticising mediocrity is fine; it's the mean-spirited, lazy, dour-faced carping and sneering while doing so that is what I'm on about.

Yes, so, some people who hate sport will become sick of the focus on something they find boring. Some people who work in London or one of the other venues may have their journeys to work affected for three weeks. Yes, drivers in London may well be irritated by the Olympic lanes. And the issue of not being allowed to eat unsponsored crisps or wear unsponsored clothes (let's see, shall we?) is an important one, and one we can fairly argue about.

Yes, it's has cost a lot of money. Things that are worth doing often do, and they are worth doing well.

Yes, we are in very difficult economic times, and spending a lot of money may seem like the wrong thing to do. But sometimes spending money on something special and luxurious rather than boring and essential is a right thing to do. Uplifting, exciting, worthwhile.

To all the athletes who have sacrificed and achieved so much to be selected, and the athletes who have worked so hard and been unlucky enough just to miss selection, to all the thousands of people involved in organising, planning and delivering these games, those in the public eye and those behind the scenes, you have my admiration, all of you. Whatever happens. None of the sneerers could have done what you've done. They are far too ensconced in their comfy sofas, throwing popcorn and spitting pips from the lemons they've just been sucking.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

My older daughter, since you asked

Several people have asked me to say something about my older daughter. I blogged about my younger one, and very occasionally mention her on Twitter or FB, but I tend not to shout about D1. There's a simple reason for this: she's not a public person and she's rightly cautious about info being "out there".

Anyway, here's all you are allowed to know about D1!

She lives in London. She has a fab job working for the Tate, an organisation she's followed and loved for years. She works in the Director's office, and has been there for a year now, after previously working for Burberry. She's incredibly knowledgable about art and design. And the latest thing she's been involved in is the launch of this - the Tate Tanks. Job well done!

She's gorgeous, relentlessly modest, and has a heart of gold. She is not at all crabbit!

Both my daughters are great friends. They share similarities - particularly in their honesty, integrity and care for other people - but they are also very different in lots of ways.

And I'm equally proud of both of them.

Here endeth the boast of a proud mum. With apologies.

Friday, 13 July 2012

When language isn't beautiful

I love language. I love new words and new ways of expressing things. I love how it changes and adapts and is alive, how we find a way to express anything we want with it, how new generations put their own slant on it. Despite having a strictly classical education - including having a degree which required me to read and write in Latin and Greek - I am not one of those people who winces at a neologism or adaptation of a word or when someone turns a noun into a verb or whatever. I think that's what language is allowed to do. I also have a tendency to prefer style to correctness, although the fundamentals must be correct if the writer is to achieve the clearest meaning and communication.


I can't stand it when people hide behind absurd jargon, thinking it makes them sound clever. Management-speak and Government-speak are ugly, usually quite unnecessary, verbose, exclusive and frankly rather pathetic when you deconstruct them.

Anyway, recently I was waiting for a train and couldn't avoid listening to a woman on the phone. She was speaking loudly, presumably to a colleague, and crikey, did she think she sounded clever! I wrote down some phrases that particularly struck me. The list that follows consists only of the phrases she used more than once:

"We need a starter-for-ten agenda."
"That's the absolute drop-deadline."
"...project-specific parameters..."
"Can you lean on the time-scales?"
" close of playday..."
"We should microwave that one but the other one's a slow-cooker." [She didn't mean a TV dinner.]
"It's a decision in transit situation, then?"

Yeah, I know what they mean, of course. That's not the point. The point is the clubbiness, the in-speak, and the ugly pointless messing around with words, in ways which don't make meaning clearer or more beautiful.

Self-conscious, affected. Ugh.

Until Mr M managed to stop working for a certain large company - speak not its name in my presence, unless I am armed with garlic and a silver cross - he was plagued by the ugly contortions of the language. He used to come back from work with tales of weasel phrases bandied about in the usually pointless meetings that held him back from his real work (and, indeed, the company's real work). Phrases wouldn't last long because "they" always had to create new ones as soon as anyone had got used to the old ones.

One I remember: "We need to schedule his on-boarding."

There were also a whole load of abbreviations, which one was supposed to know in order to avoid withering looks.

Can you guess the meaning of these:

AGAP = eg "It's an AGAP situation here."
CAC = eg "What is the CAC for your taxi?"
And probably the best: KSOR = eg "It's a KSOR issue." 

Any suggestions?! And do you have any management-speak phrases that annoy you? Amuse you?

Friday, 6 July 2012

Favourite places - and a chance for you to be published

I came across this today. Scottish Book Trust are running a competition in which you can write about your favourite place. It got me thinking about favourite places.

I have many. I love trees and this is a picture of some woods where I lived just outside Edinburgh two houses ago. The woods were why I wanted to live there. My husband wanted to live there because of a particular wall! *shakes head in disbelief*

I love hills, and this is the hill just through my garden now - Calton Hill in Edinburgh.


I love my new garden office, the Crabbit Hutch, where I am at the moment. It's pouring with rain outside but so cosy and bright inside.

I love being in my bed with a book. I won't show you a picture of that, if you don't mind.

I love standing on a beach, looking out to sea. Any beach. Any sea. But here's one. Pringle Bay in South Africa, where I was earlier this year.

I love the Yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I wrote about that here. And here is me enjoying the sun while sitting outside it. It's always sunny there... 

Do go and enter the SBT competition but meanwhile tell me: where is your favourite place? 

Monday, 2 July 2012

Home foods from abroad

My younger daughter is returning home today after SIX months in various bits of Africa - SA, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Zanzibar. You saw her jump out of a plane a while back. That seems tame compared with what she's done since then and I'm sure she's shielded me from most of it.

The other day, I asked her to tell me what foods she's most wanting there to be in stock when she arrives.

She said:
kettle chips
dips - tzatziki, hummous etc
nice salad stuff
spring onions
pickled onions
orange juice - no bits
nice bread  - good toastie bread, thick sliced etc
fish pie ingreds - maybe have this on monday night?
maybe some chocolate
I love that list!

What would be on your list?