May 27, 2008


A bloke who frequents a bulletin board I use has written a book about the Seventies: Francis Wheen seems to like it, which even now may still be a recommendation.

His review struck a chord with me, because those of us who remember the Seventies remember a mental world almost incomprehensible to those born later: nothing to do with flares and Spangles and progressive rock, but a world of capital and labour and of the corporate state that compromised between the two. He writes:
A couple of years ago I wrote a TV drama about Harold Wilson's last government. Although the thirtysomething producer liked the script, she found many of the allusions baffling. What, she wondered, was a "prices and incomes policy"? Or a "balance of payments crisis"? These appeared almost daily in British headlines during the 1970s; a mere generation later, they are as impenetrably archaic as Babylonic cuneiform.
When I emigrated, a couple of years ago, I met a friend beforehand in a pub outside Victoria Station and in the course of the conversation remarked that the world I knew seemed to have largely disappeared: the world of trades unions, a labour movement and a Welfare State, and one in which these were regarded as good things, where the idea of making sure that everybody was properly provided for was considered fundamental to the outlook of millions of people. I asked my great-aunt, once, whether she thought her Labour Party had achieved anything: oh yes, she said, these days you didn't see anybody sleeping in the streets of London any more. I don't think she said "homeless" - in truth, I don't think I remember even hearing the term until a few years later.

Not The Nine O'Clock News began in 1979. In one show there was a spoof of Just A Minute using news footage of trades union leaders: they were challenged to speak for a minute without using the term "aspirations". Naturally they failed the test and used a phrase like "our members' aspirations" within the first few seconds. "Aspirations" - who today, and who, born any later than I, would even connect the word "aspirations" with trades unionists rather than with hostility to them? In truth the world had changed already: the 1979 Election had already come and gone, decided on that very basis. In the course of that campaign I realised that I was a socialist - and so it was, looking back, that I got into the socialism market just as everybody else was getting out.

Continuing that strange obsession with BBC Online

Picture report

Complaint form:
Can I ask - were the captions written by somebody who is not a native English speaker?

First caption: "for a position”. Should be "for a place".

Second: "10,000 less fans". Should be "fewer".

Third: "27 incredible league wins". Should be "an incredible 27".

Fourth: "has just keeper Casper Ankergren to thank". Should omit the word "just".

Fifth: "One of the early chances of the match comes from". Should be "falls to".

Sixth: "The fight continues in the first half with Danish keeper, Ankergren, stopping more goals". Neither "fight" nor “goals" is correct here.

Seventh: "After Leeds fightback at the end of the first half, all changes as the second opens, as unmarked Hayter heads home a 10-yard goal". Either "Leeds" should be followed by an apostrophe, or it should be "fight back". "All change" is not a plural unless you want to say "everything changes". "Open" should be "begins" or "kicks off" or something similar and it should be "a goal from ten yards".

Eighth: "Haytor ends a four-month goal drought in front of cheering Donny fans, as they step toward Championship promotion". The final phrase is wrong and should be something like "as they take a step towards promotion to the Championship". "Hayter" is the correct spelling.

Ninth: "Jason Price works the pitch remarkably in both attack and defence, making successful tackles". Neither "works the pitch remarkably" nor "making successful tackles" is good English.

Tenth: "Whites' fans watch scuppered chances". "Whites" is not apostrophised here as it's not considered a possessive. "Chances" are not "scuppered".

Eleventh: "The players are relieved and victorious as the whistle is finally blown". I don't think "victorious" is the word you're looking for here and I also think you want to say "final whistle".

Twelfth: "misery shares the pitch" is not really colloquial English.

Thirteenth: "Rovers have gladly secured a place in the second tier". We don't say "gladly" in this context.

I would be amazed if this report was written without the aid of an online translation service. Can the BBC not do better than that?

May 23, 2008

Crime and Punishment

On the wall, at the corner where Calle de Herena meets the Coso Bajo, somebody has drawn a huge love heart with two names inside it. The names are Rodion Raskolnikov and Sonia Semyonovna.

May 09, 2008

Oh to be in England II

The BBC today runs a story about the new Rough Guide, which, apart from many other things, says that Oxford's "dreaming spires" are "superb". It illustrates it with a photo which depicts not a single spire.

Oh to be in England

I was in London for a few days this past week, mostly to play chess, partly to remind myself how horrible it is to come into Liverpool Street, your first taste of England other than the airport and the train, and the first things you see are the rubbish strewn all over the street and the drunkards strewn all over the pavements.

On Monday evening I went to my old favourite pub in Brixton, the Trinity Arms: the first thing I heard after I got through the door was one woman saying to another: "don't you think we've been overrun by other nationalities?"

There was a time - a time lasting about twenty-five years - when I would have had something to say to somebody who said something like that. But these days I'm trying to cut down on the hopeless struggle against ignorance in order to make it easier to struggle against stress. So I went and sat in the corner of the pub furthest from the victim of oppression, took out a book and reflected that one advantage of being an immigrant is that usually, when people are mouthing off in bars, you don't know that they're doing it. Because you can't understand what they're saying.

May 08, 2008

The title resembles a burger