Am reading one of those OUP “Very Short Introduction” books. This one is about the philosopher Rousseau. Apparently (p.25),

…all our sciences, Rousseau suggests, have been formed out of idleness, each discipline stemming from the vices to which indolence gives rise – astronomy from superstition, for instance, geometry from avarice, and physics from excessive curiosity.

He posited all this in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750). I’m aware that logic doesn’t seem to be one of Rousseau’s strong points, but how can “excessive curiosity” stem from indolence? Indolence is laziness, and surely someone with excessive curiosity is hardly going to be lying around being indolent.


Last night I went to see a play translated from French, Life x 3 by Yasmina Reza, at the excellent Newbury Watermill. It was a good play with gentle comedy, and starred a couple of well-known actors, although I left the theatre a mite confused about the point of it all. It’s set in the living room of a stylish modern apartment, where a professional couple with a young child (whom we hear whining in a bedroom but never see) are expecting the husband’s influential colleague plus wife to arrive for dinner the next evening. They arrive a day early; the evening that follows is then played out three times, each slightly different and showing three possible outcomes depending on how the characters behaved and what they say. Key lines are repeated throughout but by different characters; some information from the first part is not repeated later, but having seen the first scenario we are already aware of it when we watch it the second time around.

I won’t write a full review here, but looking on the web it seems that the play received mixed reactions when it first opened a few years ago. I enjoyed it, but would need to see it again to catch all the nuances – and hopefully to catch the point of it, if indeed there is any more to it than that even a subtle change in one person’s behaviour or language, or the swapping of roles between parents, can change the outcome of events.

It left me thinking in the car on the way home, not about that play but about a historical one I wrote and which I’m supposed to direct later in the year (but which is now unlikely to go ahead due to lack of cast). I’m told by someone in the know that there’s a local playwriting competition in the pipeline; if my play isn’t performed for the festival season this year I may enter it in that competition, if it fits the criteria. Last year I began writing a second play, a modern comedy, which I had almost abandoned through lack of energy or inclination (having had a tough 8 months which I won’t go into detail about); but last night when I got home I opened up the file again, re-read what I’d written and found a new enthusiasm.

I love Twitter, but someone there should BUY A PUNCTUATION PRIMER.

New: Send photo’s to Twitter!

… For photo’s we’re using Twitpic, when you send photo’s to your Twittermail account …

Straightforward plural nouns such as “photos” do not require apostrophes.

An apostrophe mainly

(1) indicates ownership (e.g. Molly’s, James’s, the king’s)
(2) indicates that there is a letter missing (e.g. when it is becomes it’s).

Google “use of apostrophes”, there are dozens of web pages that explain the rules in full.

I woke up this morning to a white-out. I live in a semi-rural area with lots of hills and twisty lanes, but thought – optimistically – that I’d make the effort and try to get to my part-time job in a market town a few miles away. I was about to dig out the car, when my employer rang. It’s a small company and I’m the only regular office employee, though I’m part-time. He lives out in the sticks, three miles from me. “I thought I’d update you about the roads,” he said. “It’s slippy out there. I skidded a hundred yards when I braked, and there had already been an accident at the cross-roads.” And he drives a dont’t-f-with-me 4×4. “Don’t try it unless you’re confident,” he said. “Don’t have an accident on my account.”

“Oh, I’ll give it a go,” I said, at my most blasé. “The roads will be gritted and I’ll go slowly. Expect me when you see me.”

So I cleared off the car, left the engine running for ten minutes to clear the windows, threw a load of newspapers in the boot (for shoving under the wheels if I got stuck) and ventured out of the drive and onto the main road. It was still snowing, and the snow was still settling. Now, I’m not driving a 4×4, just a little ’97 Mazda 323 fastback. The rear boot spoiler looks nice, but it doesn’t magic away six inches of snow in a country completely unprepared for winter weather. The little M has got me through mud before (in my camping days) and a few deep puddles, and I have a set of fairly new Pirellis. It handles sharp corners beautifully in the dry, almost rally-esque, but it’s hardly a dodgem car, and the front skirts are plastic. If I lost it and hit anything hard enough I’d probably do myself a lot of damage. And I’d probably kill the car.

As I turned left out of the drive someone in a large estate car came sailing out of an un-gritted side road: from the angle of the car it looked like he’d braked a couple of miles previously and had only just managed to slow down. “Oops, bit slippy there,” I thought. “I’d better take the main road through the village and not cut down through Grove.”

I made it around the 90-right into the village high street without incident, but was confronted by what looked like a stretch of road straight out of the WRC (Swedish leg). And this road had allegedly been cleared. And it was still snowing. “Enough,” the high-vis-jacket-wearing angel on my shoulder said. “Imagine what the back road into town is going to be like. Time to turn around.” But where? All the side roads were skating rinks. I was forced to slither all the way down the high street past a cluster of feral children carrying snowballs, manoeuvre around a 40-tonner delivering milk to the supermarket (they refuse to send smaller trucks, they say it’s uneconomical), perform a wobbly three-point-turn in the car park and go back the way I’d come. Cue adrenalin rush as I made it back around the 90-turn, back up the road and back into the drive. Adrenalin, and a little guilt. Why didn’t I try a bit harder? Drive a bit further? I’m sure he’ll think I’m just skiving.

I called my employer’s mobile. “I’m taking your first advice,” I said, “And making up the time later in the week.” He seemed to be in complete agreement, but I’m sure I detected a degree of unhappy pleading in his voice as he asked that I try and make it in tomorrow, as we have some deliveries to make. I promised that if the roads were just slushy, I’d be there at ten. Just to show willing, I then emailed him and said I’d be happy to do any proof-reading that was necessary today, if he emailed me the files.

Unnecessary guilt. Don’t you just hate it?

I’m a collector of certain ceramic items; I mainly trawl eBay, and I’m on there every few days, scanning for anything interesting. Not that in these Hard Times I feel justified in buying much, but it’s still interesting to look.

However, can anyone please enlighten me as to precisely what the word “vintage” is supposed to mean in a buying-things context? For the last couple of years it seems to have been eBay’s phrase-du-jour. Sellers have latched onto the word like a swarm of swallows in late summer spreading the vibe that it’s almost time to leave. It seems to be plastered across every item that was manufactured before the turn of the 21st century (that’s only nine years ago, if anyone’s stopped counting).

The logic seems to be: “Vintage is an old-sounding word, and I’m selling something pretty old, so I’ll just call it ‘vintage’ and dozens of people will want to bid for it.”

Some relevant definitions of “vintage” from
“6. the class of a dated object with reference to era of production or use: a hat of last year’s vintage.”
“9. representing the high quality of a past time: vintage cars; vintage movies.”
“11. being the best of its kind: They praised the play as vintage O’Neill.”

Many collectable items on eBay could be classed as being of a particular “vintage”;

However in this case the word only makes sense when accompanied by a qualification, for example “50s vintage”, or “Georgian vintage”. I believe I’m yet to see this in any of the sections I look at regularly on eBay. The word “vintage” on its own, for selling purposes, doesn’t describe anything.

Many items on eBay may be of high quality or the best of their kind;

In which case why not just be bang on the button accurate and describe them as “High Quality”, “Top quality”, or “Perfect example(s) of …” ? Rather than using a single, fuzzy in-vogue adjective that doesn’t make the items stand out from all the hundreds of others shouting “Genuine vintage blah!” OK, it means the seller only uses one word in their description rather than two or three, but which is more helpful, accurate and reassuring to a buyer: “L@@k at my vintage watches!!!!” or “High quality Victorian pocket time-pieces”? I know which item I’d take a look at, and it’s not the one advertised by meaningless catchwords and spurious keyboard characters.

So in essence there’s really only one appropriate context where “vintage” can be used, and that’s with the addition of a specific qualification in terms of a recognisable date, era, creative movement, etc. And therein lies the problem. Sellers are describing everything with it, stand-alone, regardless of context, and in most cases it doesn’t add any value at all to an item’s description. How does “Wonderful vintage handbag!” give me any idea about the item other than that it’s a handbag? Does the description “vintage watch” tell me anything about a timepiece’s condition, style, era or manufacturer? “Vintage Al$ati@n puppie$!!!” anyone? (OK, that last one was a joke as you can’t sell pets on eBay, but you get the idea).

I’ve half a mind to post a spoof eBay auction for the word “vintage”: in the sense that use of it on eBay is becoming more dated and old-fashioned by the minute, and I’d like to get shot of it, thanks.

For several days I’ve been wittering on about learning lines – so I thought I’d explain how I’m doing it.

Memory works best by association, or so I’m told, and true enough I can’t remember huge chunks of data in abstract. I work almost photographically from the page, remembering what comes where, what the line number is, where the highlighted bits and my margin notes are and so on. Then all I have to do is visualise the paper page, and where that piece of text comes on it, to keep track of where I am.

I also number all my lines in sequence so I know if I have 10 lines, or 17, or 38 (in the case of one particular scene in this play). I can also associate the first word of that line, or even the entire line with the line number: in Act II scene 4, for example, my 13th line is “God help me!” – which makes for an easy association because 13 is supposedly unlucky and encountering it I might indeed want to say “God help me!”. In Act II scene 1, line 6 contains the phrase “leaning over me where I lay”. The uptail of my written sixes leans over to the right, so I used the visual idea of “leaning” to associate the phrase to the number.

I write out the scenes again and again, writing the line number before the line, making associations as I go, first between the lines and the line numbers, and then between the lines themselves, until I can write out the scene without looking at the book. Eventually I can ignore the line numbers as well, as the verbal sequence is firmly fixed in my head. Obviously, numbering is only helpful during the memorisation process. On stage I haven’t time or brain capacity to actually count which line I’m on; by that point, the lines have to be there automatically.

It’s also a great help to learn everyone else’s lines. No I’m not a masochist, but 1) I have to know when my cues are imminent; 2) if another actor gets lost I know exactly where we are in the script and can work out how to help them get back on track; 3) it helps me visualise what they will be doing on the stage, and that helps me associate the movements onstage with what I should be saying; 4) It helps me understand the other characters, so I can react to them appropriately and hopefully make things feel more “real”. Although with the other actors’ lines I don’t need to be exact with the words, I just have to know the general gist of what they say at that point, and remember if there are any important cues in it.

Note, I’m only an amateur and maybe some trained pros might take issue with my methods. But this is what works for me.

I wonder: if any signs like these popped up in Birmingham, would the council object to inclusion of the exclamation marks?

Sign hacker broadcasts zombie warnings
Someone reprogrammed two city construction road signs near the University of Texas early Monday morning in an attempt to warn Austin of an imminent zombie attack

I know that word usage has to move with the times, but I don’t agree that punctuation should: punctuation is the set of rules that tells us how to interpret the words. It’s vital to avoid misunderstanding.

Removing punctuation from road signs, as Birmingham City Council has done (apostrophes in this case), just smacks of laziness and a general lack of care for good communication. I presume that, as a council with many ethnic groups under its care, it will have some obligation to provide translation and to make sure that any foreign language signs that it uses are rendered correctly; so why does it not feel that it is important to communicate accurately to people who speak English?

I belong to a local theatre group, and we’re rehearsing for our spring play: Willis Hall’s adaptation of Jane Eyre. Yours truly is in the main role; I’m in all 31 scenes and have lines in 29 of them.

Everyone in the group has different methods of learning lines: Mr Rochester in this performance prefers to listen to them in the car, whereas my line-learning regimen consists of repeatedly writing out each scene … again … and again … and again until I have it photographically in my mind and can write it out verbatim (other actors’ lines as well) without referring to the script. Fortunately I have a retentive memory, but I’m finding that remembering lines with a pen and paper is a completely different story (pardon the pun) to remembering them on stage while connecting them with moves and actions.

“Books down” is February 12th, so I have two weeks. Free time between now and then? I think not, probably just a very bad case of writers’ cramp.

Evidently being a townie is not a modern phenomenon:

The enemy faced us this day with three thousand horse. Here you should have seen the Londoners runne to see what manner of thinges cowes were. Some of them would say they had all of them hoornes, and would doe great mischiefe with them …
Captain Robert Harley, Hampshire, March 1644.

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"You should study the Peerage, Gerald ... It is the best thing in fiction the English have ever done." (Wilde; A Woman of No Importance, Act 2)