The Musings in My Heart I Bore

What a wonderful life.

Went and bought new hat and gloves to work in the office. Very cold in here. There’s a draught somewhere and for two years now I haven’t been able to figure it out. Maybe it’s a poltergeist. If it is, maybe it will reveal itself, sometimes the company would be nice.

Got a bit of bad news yesterday about a close relative. Need to figure out what to do here. You can’t just phone the man up and say “I hear you’ve got cancer.”

Fox’s Chunky Extremely Chocolatey Cookies are exactly that.

I expected ice on the road to and from Armagh last night but thankfully there was none. The course provided more food for thought and more good ideas that I can use for the challenge ahead and for next season too. Are players mature enough to self evaluate? We will see. Are any of us?

Yesterday getting the children out to school I said “Coats on, it’s the coldest day of the year so far.” Leo replied, “What about January dad.” I was thinking school year, he calendar. There’s at least two perspectives on everything.

My brother came to visit us with Andrea and the three children on Sunday. The youngest, Sean Andrew and our Treasa did not hit it off. At all. ‘I don’t like THAT BOY’ she declaimed repeatedly, in a state of high agitation. The feeling was mutual. He was not impressed. Round two next weekend.

I read an article about suicide at the weekend in the Irish Times. To be in that situation where your world closes in around you, there is no escape and despair takes over. How can people get to the point of no return?

I just received a piece of disappointing news myself which is a bit of a hard blow to take and a real hard kick in the stones. However what puts it in perspective is the news I heard yesterday. Also in my mind is the optimism I had this time a year ago, only for it to be dashed leaving us bereft and utterly distraught.

“In the depths of winter I finally learned that there was was within me an invincible summer.”

Half Canned Full of Beans

Bitter cold today, chill icy wind coming in off the sea.

I may light the stove and move from the office to the kitchen for the day. Read the papers yesterday and this morning, watching the manoevrings of various politicians over the weekend.

Aung San Suu Kyi released from house arrest; Gerry Adams announced he’s moving way down south to re-invent himself as a TD; Jim Allister rages against the dying of the light. In England lightweight Liberal Nick Clegg shows he was well duped by the Tories over tuition fees. Who didn’t see that coming?

Of these the events in Burma caught the eye of the media and imagination of the world. But in reality will the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest make any real difference, will it lead to regime change in Burma? Probably not.

Still, for all our criticism of the politicians that we are blessed with,  it is better to have a load of half canned students sacking an office than being gunned down in the streets for having an opinion. Western democracy was such a good idea.

From my own days as a student, demonstrations and protests were part of the craic and we weren’t a radical bunch by any means. More like a load of bollixes with nothing better to do looking an excuse to go on the beer. Anti-student loans or save our grants. Whatever the cause, they could count on us.

Off we would march from Queen’s, down past pub after tempting pub, keeping a steady course for Belfast City Hall. After the demo was over we would take ourselves down Royal Avenue and into Kelly’s Cellars and begin the serious business of pub crawling back up to the Union or home.

In no time at all, half canned, full of beans. We could have changed the world but it was easier to worry about where the next pint of stout was coming from.

Sometimes we would not even make it as far as home, ending up again in what was the old Crescent Bar in Sandy Row. A refuge for drunks, desperadoes, the last stop on the Lost Highway. More times than not an entirely forgettable night out, one merging into the next, meeting the same people over and over again.

Still, it got you out of the house, which is more than Aung San Suu Kyi could say.

Give it Good Head

This piece is designed for any readers that fancy themselves as linguists with a cunning streak – our topic? Headlines.

When writing, the headline is there for a reason. It’s the thing that will attract a reader.

So for me it is an opportunity to have some fun with the reader and give them some enjoyment too.

Likewise when reading others’ work, oftentimes the laugh is because the author may not even see the double entendre in their headline.

A few things led me to this article. I came upon a piece the other day with a headline about someone blowing a gasket. Indeed. . .

In papers, it is the sub editor who combines fixing copy, chopping for length and generally tidying up copy, with the task of writing headlines. The result can be a stroke of pure genius.

For bloggers and other writers, giving a piece a good head is entirely our own responsibility.

Even some experienced writers don’t have the knack. Others have it down to a fine art. A former colleague populated staff magazine headlines with The Beatles’ song titles.

So we had a piece about Norwegian tree research called ‘Norwegians Would’; a piece about trade union negotiations called ‘We Can Work it Out’.

From there we would be on the hunt for sports reports from University teams to see if we could get a chance to insert headlines like ‘Yellow Sub Maureen’ or in the case of a new type of long lasting coloured fabric that had been developed a piece headlined ‘Strawberry Feels Forever’.

The trick is to be able to play on words, often throwing in some sort of mild double entrendre. If you prove to be good at this it can enliven even the dullest piece.

A few tips to bear in mind if you want to either avoid or create headlines with a double meaning.

Read your headline aloud.

Consider any double meanings. If your audience is likely to appreciate the humour then go for it.

Best of all, your headline may have such a clever play on words that no-one except you will get it. How smug will you be? But remember you are writing for an audience.

Try and avoid cliches, some quotes from the Bible and Shakespeare have been done to death – the likes of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ and so on.

But by all means have as much craic as you can.

And so what if someone blows a gasket? There’s a load worse things can happen to even the most cunning of linguists.

The Tyranny of the Red Pen

When I started at the University I was employed as an editor. My boss was an excellent writer, maybe not as good as he thought he was, but damn good nonetheless.

I discovered early on in my career there that a thick skin and the ability to take criticism of my work was going to be fundamental to survival. I would give him pieces that I had written and he would take them home to read and edit.

The first few pages would have the standard corrections, sentences reworked and so on. So far so good. He was a great preacher of the rule of proximity in a sentence. Also, he scythed through repetition with ease. Phrases like ‘forward planning’ which cropped up regularly in University documents were caught by his beady eye.

After I had annoyed him with my lack of precision and poor presentation of thought, he would be well lit as someone I once knew would say. The edits and scrawls on the pages deteriorated badly thereafter. That spelled trouble for me.

A particular piece of nonsense might attract a flurry of ten red exclamation marks. Then more abuse, ‘What does this mean JOSEPH?’. ‘Rubbish’. ‘This word is a noun not a verb, don’t ever write that again!’

Then the final insult. ‘Absolute, total nonsense. See me!!!!!’

However, he drew the line at some phrases. Abusive words. Tool. Asshole. They wouldn’t have featured in his vocabulary at all.

I would dutifully proceed to his office where I would get a real bollocking for the merits and demerits of what I had written. I found it a fascinating learning experience. He gave me the balls to write the way I should have been writing. Also the balls to correct other people’s work no matter who they were.

I’ll tell you this. You need a thick skin to write anything down. I have little respect for the people who are correctors of others’ work but cannot populate a white sheet of paper with their own thoughts and ideas expressed in words. My boss used to call it the Tyranny of the White Page. This from a man who was a master of the Tyrannny of the Red Pen!

I have total respect for people who are prepared to write and even more for those that are prepared to put their thoughts ‘out there’ on paper or online. I encourage people to do that. To suck it and see. Especially blogging, it’s a big world and there’s plenty of room for the good, bad and indifferent. At least they’re writing something!

Occasionally I come across things written that interest me for whatever reason, work, enjoyment. Who knows? Maybe I know the person or their subject matter appears to me be different or appealing. Or perhaps it is a work assignment.

Oftentimes I might consider making a suggestion, but bitter experience tells that because people view writing as an extension of themselves they get wounded very easily.

I will simply leave them to it, and they will be none the wiser but much happier. I won’t be back.