About me

Get new posts by email.

About me

Weeknotes 2022.32

A few things I’ve been thinking about this week. The thirty-second post of a series.

Walking past a coffee shop on a university campus this week, I heard a student regaling a small group of friends. As I walked past, I caught the exclamation: “I was in the middle of a crematorium with fire alarms going off, what would you expect!?”

This week, I’ve been reading some Gore Vidal. In one of his novels, a character mentions a “streptococcic infection.”

I deal with cases of streptococcal infection all the time, but have never come across that alternative form of the adjective. Google Books Ngrams shows that “streptococcal” has always been the commoner form, but that “streptococcic” was used a little in the first half of the twentieth century.

Wendy and I have wanted to replace the wall lights in our living room for years, but have never spotted ones that were quite right. We did this week, though… and despite imagining that it would be difficult, the DIY job of replacing them only took me about 15 minutes. By sheer fluke, the brackets already attached to the wall for the old lamps were identical to the brackets for the new ones, so didn’t require removal and replacement.

I’ve been irritated this week by the Tory leadership candidates talking about “NHS efficiency”. I think there are scarcely any people who want an efficient NHS; I think most people want a gloriously, wonderfully inefficient NHS.

I think people want an NHS where staff have the time to sit and hold the hands of those dying alone. I think people want an NHS where staff have the time to give tea and sympathy to the bereaved. I think people want an NHS where staff have time for a little chat with the lonely patient without any visitors.

Of course, efficiency should be a consideration, but it shouldn’t be the top priority. I’d much rather be looked after by a caring service than an efficient one, and I’d much rather pay for the former too.

Wendy and I went to our first wedding of the year this week. Either fewer people are getting married or we’re getting old… or both. We saw the Perseid meteor shower as we walked home.

The images in this post are all AI-generated images for the prompt “a painting of a group of friends drinking coffee at a wedding with a wall light in the background” created by OpenAI’s D-ALLE 2.

This post was filed under: Weeknotes.

Weeknotes 2022.31

A few things I’ve been thinking about this week. The thirty-first post of a series.

I’ve moaned more than enough on here about ridiculous imprecise business jargon, but I’m being invited to a rash of “birdtable meetings” at the moment. This phrase manages to be both linguistically excruciating as well as grammatically irritating. I can accept “birdtable” as a non-standard compound adjective in the phrase “birdtable meeting”—but the moment people use “birdtable” as a noun, and continue to omit the space, it really makes my teeth itch.

I’m fully aware that this makes me a ludicrous human being, that the rules of grammar aren’t fixed in any case, that I make much worse grammatical errors all the time, and that I should just breathe through it: but it still irritates me.

I’ve been reading Caroline Knowles’s Serious Money this week. She mentions that when wealthy people dig out multi-storey basements below their central London houses, the digger used is often left in situ, because to extract it again is uneconomic. I think I’d heard that before, but I’d never really pondered the details.

Presumably, one has to be quite careful about removing all the fuel to prevent a fire hazard. Does the digger get walled in, or is an access point left just in case? If the latter, do you finish the room where the digger is, or is it just a dark and dusty dug-out dungeon? Do people try and make a feature of it, like some of the London Underground tunnelling machinery? So many questions…

I’ve long been irritated by self-censorship in the news which leads to scripts referring to “the n-word” or “the p-word” or whatever. It irritates me because it omits a key fact from the story and fails to educate the reader or listener that the term under discussion is inappropriate. Language changes over time and these are “teachable” moments—and no-one can be reasonably offended by an appropriately couched single mention. I’m not calling for offensive advice words in banner headlines.

This has reached a fresh nadir this week, with BBC News publishing an article about the removal of a word from some lyrics. The only clues given are that the word “has been used to demean people with spastic cerebral palsy” and that it has a variety of other meanings. I can think of multiple words that fit those criteria—words I wouldn’t use—but what if this is a new usage of a word I would normally use?

Even The Guardian, which has a specific policy of stating words “when necessary to the facts of the piece”—which is surely the case here—kept it secret.

This could have been an article that helped me to be more sensitive to others’ perceptions of language. Instead, because they haven’t told me which word is offensive, it’s essentially just noise.

This week, an expansion to the Guggenheim in Bilbao has been approved, with two extensions on sites 5km apart connected by a greenway, and connected to the main museum—40km away—through a brand new tunnel bored through a mountain.

Having never even been to Bilbao, and having seen only a couple of paragraphs about the plan in the press, I’m really not at all qualified to have an opinion. Nevertheless, I got a little thrill at the sheer audacity of the plan when I first read about it this week. I felt a little boosted by the confidence the plan projects about the world… even though, on the face of it, it doesn’t sound environmentally ideal, and even though we all know that few such grand projects ever reach fruition.

Also from Serious Money comes the revelation that there are more people employed in domestic service in the UK now than there were during the Victorian era.

The largest and most elaborate houses employ cleaners, waiters, maintenance staff, housekeepers, security staff, drivers, gardeners, chefs, nannies, tutors, PAs and, sometimes, multiple butlers. The twenty-first century domestic service labour force is as complex and specialised in its own way as its nineteenth-century predecessor.

Of course, the population has grown by 2-5 times (depending on what we’re calling “the Victorian era”, but even so… I wouldn’t have expected that.

The images in this post are all AI-generated images for the prompt “brightly coloured painting of a bird on a bird table with money” created by OpenAI’s D-ALLE.

This post was filed under: Weeknotes.

On book reviews

Last week, I posted my regular “What I’ve been reading this month” post and was surprised to note that all the books were by female authors. I noted that this hadn’t happened before, and by flicking back through the series, I could see that the last time all the books were by one gender was in February 2019.

This made me wonder what other secrets were hiding in the archive of book reviews on this blog. I decided to make a spreadsheet of all the books I’ve ever reviewed on here, and the posts in which they first appeared.

This was a bigger task than I anticipated: it turns out that I’ve reviewed 561 books over a period of 17 and a half years.

My first review was of Dan Brown’s most famous novel, in January 2005. Since then, there have been 74 other posts reviewing single books (plus a few slightly edited repeats, which I didn’t count) and a total of 75 “what I’ve been reading this month” posts (plus a few ‘favourite books this year’ repeats, which I didn’t count).

The authors I’ve reviewed the most are Ian McEwan (7 books) and David Sedaris (7), followed by Ali Smith (6), Jon Ronson (6), Julian Barnes (6) and Kazuo Ishiguro (6).

Just over half—53%—of the books have been fiction.

Diversity hasn’t historically been a strong point for me: more than two-thirds of the books I’ve read are by men, with only 12% being non-fiction books written by female authors. Less than one-in-ten of the books were first published in a language other than English, with French (9 books) and Italian (9) the most common non-English original languages.

However, I’m getting better: over the last year, exactly half of the books I’ve read have been written by women, and nearly 20% of the books I’ve read have been translations from one of eight different languages. I’ve also been reading more fiction, which accounts for 68% of books I’ve read over the last year, but still less than 30% of the non-fiction I’ve read has been written by female authors.

I appreciate that this is mostly of interest to me, as the reader of the books and the writer of the reviews… but I’m compulsively sharing nonetheless.

The images in this post are all AI-generated images for the prompt “cubist painting of piles of books on balance scales in a library” created by OpenAI’s D-ALLE.

This post was filed under: Blogging, Reviews.

The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. Information about cookies and the handling of emails submitted for the 'new posts by email' service can be found in the privacy policy. This site uses affiliate links: if you buy something via a link on this site, I might get a small percentage in commission. Here's hoping.