Monday, June 29, 2020

Blogger, boohai and Puhoi

It's taking a bit of time getting used to Blogger's new format. There are some things I like about it, but as so often with these sorts of changes, things that are most useful get hidden out of the way and take some finding. Such as the way to create a new post. You'll look in vain at the top of the posts page for any indication that you can ever create another post, and then out of the corner of your eye, in the far distant bottom right corner is a plus inside a circle. That's the thing to click on if you want to start something fresh.

It's a bit like telling a friend when they're coming to visit. 'You'll find the back door somewhere round the back,' and leaving them to discover that the back door isn't actually at the back, but out of sight around the side of the house that no visitor would ever make their way to.

We stayed at my cousin's house recently while she was away somewhere else. The back door led off the drive where you parked your car (and was one of those that didn't open normally, but required you to pull it towards you in order to get the lock to work). So it was effectively the front door. 

To reach the actual front door, however, you had to go through a side gate in front of the front side of the house, turn a corner, and only then discover that the front door was well and truly hidden in a very private garden. 

But that's not what I intended to write about today. 

I found myself using the expression ‘It’s up the boohai’ this morning when answering my daughter. It's not something I say often, but it’s a handy way of inferring that something’s completely in a muddle. In this case that the local Council's Dog Registration system seems to have got itself thoroughly discombobulated as a result of Lockdown. 

The implication that something's gone haywire is the way I’ve always used it, and I think it was how my mother used it as well. We’re not alone in doing so: here's Sam Young citing someone who claims that the dictionary definition of being lost or astray isn't the one he's used to:

I recall that my Dad sometimes used the expression "Up the Boohai" to describe poor reasoning or irrational behaviour. He was a WW I vet and he told me that the term was used by the troops to describe some of the officers' decisions, as in "These are the orders but they're all up the boohai." 

Some online dictionaries only give the definition of lost for good, or gone astray. 'Up the Puhoi’ was supposedly the original phrase. Puhoi is a village on the Puhoi River, north of Auckland, where Bohemian immigrants apparently settled. Why you'd get more lost in Puhoi than other places is a bit of a mystery. 



Photo courtesy of HelloAuckland.co.nz

Monday, May 18, 2020

Fighting off the internal critic


When stuck on a book, Anne Lamott writes about letting your characters speak, giving them the opportunity to work their way forward, and even showing you what the climax should be. 
For myself, stuck in the middle of a book that refuses to move forward, I have occasionally in the past used a kind of monologue from various characters to give me some better understanding of their 'thoughts' and 'aspirations.' So it's worth considering what Lamott has to say, since my book has been stuck for some months.

But...

Immediately I sit down to let my characters speak, the You Can’t Do This voice arrives.  I ask, Who are you, and what position do you hold in my writing world that allows you to put your oar in the moment I try to write something on this book?

Okay, well firstly, I’m not one of your characters, so you can’t treat me as though I can be bullied into a plot at your whim. 

The truth is you are one of my characters because you don’t exist outside my head. So sod off before I put you in the reject file.

I’m not one of the characters in your piffling book, the one no one will want to read. Wait, are you saving any of this? I don’t want what I say to be lost.

Good grief. Saved.

Right. Now. Every time you sit down to write, I believe you must go back and re-read the entire draft, you must check your synopsis, and your structure, because if you don’t have a structure there’s no way this book is ever – and I mean ever – going to work, and only then think about moving forward and doing some supposedly productive writing. Just because Anne Lamott mentions authors who start to write from the middle of nowhere and think they can get a book up and running doesn’t mean you can. I’m mean, are you seriously published? Do you think a few sales here and there identify you as a writer? You’re pathetic. I hope you just heard the word I used: pathetic. P...A...T...H...E...

Are you going to rattle on all day like this? I'd like to give my real characters some room to speak.

They’re not going to talk to you. They’re sick to death of being stuck in a so-far-undescribed room, or virtually forgotten since chapter seven, while you say, 
nah I won’t finish this,
yes I will finish this, 
nah I don’t know what to do, 
yes I have an idea, 
nah that doesn’t work
Make up your frigging mind! The characters have had it up to here. They're contracting themselves to other authors because they need a job. They've given up on the so-called author who can’t get his act together.

You’re talking piffle. No one else would have them because they belong in THIS story.

Don’t you believe it. They can go where they like, even if they have to change their looks a little or bend the arc of their character. They’ll get jobs, don’t you worry.

So you’re saying they're good characters?

Good? Nah, they’ve got the ability to do a bit part in someone else’s novel, maybe, but they’re not going to get anything big in a real book that needs characters crammed with personality. They're cardboard copies of whatever first came to your unimaginative mind. You probably think you’ll get away with calling the load of bollocks you’ve got there a ‘shitty first draft’ a la your mate, Anne Lamott, but that’s not cutting any mustard with them. They want something polished and finished, and you’re never, never going to get around to doing anything like that. You wouldn’t even know where the bottle of polish was. Throw your stuff down the toilet and go and do something worth doing. Don’t ask me what because I haven’t a clue, but no doubt there’s some menial task you can do with a piece of paper and a pen…the easy crossword in the morning newspaper, maybe.

Hmm. I still have a couple of heavies sitting around…they've tried out for a role in the second half of the book…

Rubbish! Now you really are making things up. 

That's my job. They’re going to grab you by the elbows, lift you two feet in the ear...air…

See, you couldn’t even remember how to spell air.

And march you off to the dustbin where you belong. I would get them to flush you down the toilet, but I don’t want it blocking up.

You don’t scare me. I'm the only real voice you've got here!

You’re just a voice without a body, without any physical presence  whatsoever, and what's more I don't trust you. So quit your insistence on standing in the way of my getting on with the book. I’ve already wasted ten minutes writing time listening to your rants. And that's only today. 

[Author whistles up the two heavies, who are glad to get something to do earlier in the piece than they'd expected. They oblige the author and remove the anonymous voice which seems to think it rules the writing-landscape. With a couple of cheerful 'Watch 'er, mate' mutters out of the sides of their mouths, they lift the voice off its feet, as recommended, and carry him/her/it babbling to the dustbin.
'Babbling to the dustbin.' The author immediately jots this down in case he wants to use it at a later point, and feels as though the day may not be a total disaster after all.]

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Halving it

When I was doing a Writing Course years ago, I remember being appalled when asked to cut down a short story by half. Impossible! 

But, no, it's not, and the good thing was that it gave me confidence to edit more effectively in the future. No line is ever inviolable, and no word is so perfect that something else can't substitute for it - if you need to chop things back. The great thing about the English language is that you can almost invariably find a synonym for any word. 


I posted the following on Facebook today: 


For years we've been getting the nasal spray Flixonase in a plastic squirter. Simple and not too unenvironmental.
Now the product has morphed into a wide plastic package - the kind you have to use an axe to get into - and most of what's inside the package is air. Not only do these packets take up much more room on the shelf at the pharmacy, but they are a total waste of resources. Neither the packaging nor the container is reusable in any sense.


I attached photos of the package, front and back, including one of the previous models for comparison.


Plenty of room on Facebook, so I could use as many words as I wanted, and play a little with the text. 


But I wanted to put the same thing on Twitter, and of course, even with their doubling of the size of a tweet a couple of years ago, you're still limited in how many characters you can use. 


So I called on my old skills, and produced this:


For years the nasal spray #Flixonase came a simple plastic squirter. Now it's morphed into a wide #plastic package, and most of what's inside is AIR. Not only does it take up more room on the pharmacy shelf, but neither the packaging nor the container is #recyclable in any sense.


Exactly 280 characters!


In the tweet there are 50 words, or 280 characters. In the FB version there are 85 words, and 449 characters.

Yes, of course, a few interesting things have gone - like the bit about the axe - but in general nothing important has been lost. It can sometimes be a struggle to get your text down to an allotted number of words (newspapers are usually the most keen to keep words to a certain fixed figure) but it's doable, and what's more, it's good for your editing skills in general. I've had to review several books over the last few years that looked like they'd never end - a 1000 pages seemed to be the minimum some authors could tell their story in. Except it wasn't. It was indulgence, and the editors at his publishing house should have told them so.


So when it comes to the point where you have to cut that massive tome down that you've been writing for several years, just think: do I want to publish a Facebook version, or a Twitter one? The latter may well help your book reach more readers.



Friday, March 20, 2020

You great wazzock!

We were on holiday recently, and my wife bought me a Code Break puzzle book from the $2.00 shop (it cost $2.50, which seems slightly odd, but maybe altering the name of the shop to the $2.50 Shop wasn't worth the extra fifty cents).

Unusually for a puzzle book, I'd discovered some new words. The compiler obviously didn't like to go for the mundane, so we had SCHMALTZ, GRIPPE and ENCYST in one puzzle. None of those were unfamiliar, but the following three made me check the anagram app on my phone which is usually a pretty reliable source for checking the validity of a word.

These three were: WAZZOCK, MAJOLICA and OSMIUM. Plainly I should know the second and third as even Blogger doesn't think them unusual, but it put a red line under WAZZOCK, which means it thinks it's suspect. Word (the Microsoft programme) on the other hand, seems quite happy with it, although not with its alternative spelling, WASSOCK.

Well, Blogger and Word, it isn't suspicious at all, in either spellings. And it's a useful word which obviously no longer gets the room in most people's vocabulary that it deserves. Know someone who's stupid or annoying? That person is a wazzock.

It may be a newish word. Certainly most dictionaries I could find online seemed to think it had originated in the twentieth century. The Urban Dictionary, on the other hand, a dictionary I don't always find entirely reliable (which may be just that I'm ignorant of a great deal of slang) claims an interesting history for it.

On the basis of the Urban Dictionary's explanation WAZZOCK is the sort of word that I'd have expected to find in David Crystal's The Disappearing Dictionary. This isn't a thriller about a book disappearing from someone's library, but about many English words - many delightful ones - that are no longer used, except, in some cases, in remote parts of England where local dialects are still more common.

Here are a bunch just to give you some examples:

abundation, aizam-jazam, awvish, bemoil, brackle,cank, craichy, cramble, giddling, hask, illify, knivy, lozzuck, nesh, poweration, queechy, ronkish, scorrick, splute, work-brittle (which doesn't mean work-shy).

To give you an idea of how useful some of these words are, here are the meanings of four of them.

aizam-jazam, in spite of it looking foreign, and difficult to get your teeth around, merely means equitable, fair and square. It might be a word to face up to your lawyer with when you think he or she has been overcharging. Or you could just save your teeth and call them a wazzock.

bemoil just means covered in mud, and seems like a word we could resurrect for rugby players. 'They were so bemoiled, half the pitch went with them into the dressing room.')

queechy means sickly, ailing, feeble. This one could be useful in describing someone with Coronavirus.
'Doctor, I think I've been hit by this pandemic.'
'Yes, you do look a bit queechy.'

And last, scorrick means a fragment. Crystal gives a wonderful sentence in dialect using the word: ‘Ah thowt ther would ha bin summat left, bud ther waant a scorrick.’ [Translated: I thought there would be some left, but there wasn't a scorrick.]

A plate in the Majolica style
[courtesy Getty Images]
If this word sounds familiar, it may be because in some parts of England it's pronounced sceerick, or skeerick (this is the spelling I'm more familiar with, here in New Zealand). And it has exactly the same meaning.

Time to resurrect some of these wonderful words, I think!

Oh, BTW, Majolica [often pronounced Maiolica] is a type of pottery in which an earthenware clay body (usually a red earthenware) is covered with an opaque white glaze (traditionally a lead glaze including tin), then painted with stains or glazes and fired.

And Osmium (from Greek ὀσμή osme, "smell") is a chemical element with the symbol Os and atomic number 76. It is a hard, brittle, bluish-white transition metal in the platinum group that is found as a trace element in alloys, mostly in platinum ores.

So now you know...













Vex and trip



This column first appeared in Column 8, 8th September, 1993

My self-imposed moratorium on a certain word rhyming with ‘vex’ must come to an end. The reason? The overwhelming emphasis this week on the word rhyming with ‘vex,’ and a companion word rhyming with ‘trip.’

Can I ask: If you were the mother of seven and came into a load of money after your husband died, what would you spend it on? Most mothers-of-seven would probably answer: ‘On getting the bills paid. Or buying the kids (or grandchildren) some extra clothes. Or putting aside for their future, especially their education.’

I don’t think most mothers-of-seven would decide that forming a male strip act and taking it on tour was a top priority.

Dreams are dreams, okay, and we all have some secret ambitions we’d like to fulfil. But this must be classed as one out of the box.

Male strippers are certainly in vogue. Due to the overwhelming financial (though hardly artistic) success of a play on the subject of male strippers, our local professional theatre is now presenting A Sequel.

We’re warned in the ads that some scenes ‘may offend, intimidate or excite audience members.’ We’re told in the review that people who’d find it difficult going to see a proper strip show can feel more relaxed about going to see a play on the subject.

The puzzle is why do people want to go and see other people strip at all?

For years we’ve heard the cry, ‘It’s degrading for women to strip.’ How come it isn’t for men? Or are we back to that piece of  nonsense proposed by the video censors: men are less easily demeaned than women?

Perhaps because men are the ‘oppressors’ and have all the ‘power,’ (fat chance!) they’re taking the opportunity to oppress their victims still further – by stripping in front of them.

The Listener presented a cover story about a male and a female stripper. The man said something significant: He felt he still had to keep one part of himself for himself – that is, he never exposes himself completely. But why expose himself at all?

I know work is difficult to get, and I can see that certain unemployed members of the community might decide that this was the road to success, but what’s the cost in the long term?

A certain newspaper now has columns advertising – euphemistically – Adult Entertainment. Strippers appear increasingly amongst the ads for ‘escorts,’ a number of which I’m sure really mean ‘prostitutes.’

There are two unsavoury aspects to all this. First, the ads sometimes appear alongside the church notices, a matter of ‘inappropriate juxtaposition.’ No doubt someone will point out that Jesus spent a good deal of His time ministering to prostitutes; therefore the neighbourliness of the ads is appropriate. However, I don’t think Jesus expected that prostitutes, once they’d seen His light, would continue in their occupation.

Secondly, classified ads must ‘conform to the newspaper’s standards.’ Am I wrong in thinking those standards have broadened their broadmindedness more than a little?

That’s the classifieds. Amongst the entertainment ads is one for a certain lady now touring the country. She’s been a centrefold in Penthouse, Hustler, and so on. She’s an X-rated star of porn movies. Need I say more?

I thought, as a nation, we were already pretty much obsessed by that subject rhyming with ‘vex.’ The trouble with obsessions is that they’re never satisfied.

In the murkier depths of our beings, we’d possibly all find lascivious corners that would leer at what ought to be other people’s privacy. (I mean, of course, something quite different to normal married privacies.) But what value is there in yielding to these murky depths?

When it comes to certain words rhyming with ‘vex’ and ‘trip,’ are we made to be creatures that wallow, or creatures that soar?

**********

Update, 20.03.20
Interesting that this was written four years before The Full Monty appeared. Certainly this is an entertaining and well-made movie, though there always seemed to me to be a disconnect between putting on a strip show (and once only) and the idea that these men had lost their sense of human value. The argument didn’t quite work. Where would they go after the show was put on? Hardly into full-time strip work, you’d think? And would it be likely to give them employment in another profession?



Saturday, February 15, 2020

Moving house and writing up my life



It's been nearly two months since I last posted here - once upon a time I posted most days, sometimes more than once a day.

There's been a lot going on in our household - selling our house, for one thing, and trying to find somewhere else to live for another. At the moment we're 'boarding' with my daughter - who bought our house. So in a sense, things have hardly changed at all. She and her partner and foster boys had already been living in the house a year or more when she bought it, due to circumstances beyond her control. So it was no big change for any of us!

But we are looking for another house. The market, however, has gone crazy in our city. Once you could sell your house and find another easily because it was a buyer's market. Now it's completely the opposite: sellers are the winners, and buyers, if not quite the losers, are certainly having trouble buying something else. The prices are moving upwards at such a pace that if you leave it too long, what seemed a good sale figure on your own house, suddenly becomes not enough when you go to buy something else. And that goes not just for bigger houses but for little townhouses, units, places known as 'doer-uppers' - which usually stands for a place that going to take a good deal more than you paid for it to actually live in it.

When I last posted, I 'reprinted' a piece from 1994 which first appeared in a column I used to write - called Column 8. My intention is to keep on posting these columns (if they're not completely and utterly dated). There were five years of them originally!

But what's held me back from doing that, in part, is that I've been typing up more than 700 printed pages of a journal I kept from 1989 to around 2000. The journal was originally on an earlier computer, and thankfully I kept a printed copy of it. However, it had felt risky for a long time that I only had it on paper, so it's now all back on computer again. Amounting to something like 500.000 words, I guess.

More recent journal notes, from 2000 on, were typed straight onto computer, and copied from one model to another as time went on. And well and truly backed-up online.

When we began to tidy up things that we own in the present house, preparatory to a shift, we got rid of a lot of it. As you do. Including lots of papers and things that were really no longer of value. But I decided to keep a bunch of around 45 exercise books I'd written in over the years. Some of them are completely full; some have empty pages. Most of them relate to my spiritual journey - they might be classed as letters to God. Usually written in the morning, often at white heat (if my handwriting is anything to go by), and, to my surprise, more full of insights than I'd expected. Others relate to the craft of writing - various different approaches to encouraging myself and keeping my writing skills honed.

I've begun typing these books up too, and inserting the entries (which are mostly dated) in amongst the journal entries. It's intriguing how the more down-to-earth journal stuff contrasts with the spiritual. I might not live long enough to complete the task. But I'll give it a go!

Photo courtesy of F. Muhammad from Pixabay