Saturday, 30 July 2016

All There

In the New York Times, Roger Cohen quite brilliantly highlights the major irritants of English-speaking life at present:

Roger Cohen
Roger Cohen
There is a reflexive pronoun epidemic in England that, while it may not be high on the list of the world’s problems, is suggestive of some serious social weirdness. It’s a straining for exaggerated politeness or elevated speech that reflects a society still riven by class.
“Does that work for yourself?” “Could we perhaps have a quote from yourself?” “Is the water temperature right for yourself?” “We will have that fixed for yourself as soon as possible.” “I have booked the flight for yourself.”
Yes, that is all fine for myself!!! (I would not dream of ending that last sentence with a period as it may appear unenthusiastic when I want to exude delight at being addressed with such deference.) In fact, thanks to yourself, it’s been a great day for myself!!!
What on earth is wrong with little old “you” and “me?” They are words too short and too plain for the hospitality and service industries that now make up a big chunk of the British economy. People used to manufacture machines. Now they manufacture obsequious multisyllabic reflexive pronouns with a letter quotient designed to aggrandize yourselves, and so render yourself pliant to opening your wallet.
It’s all part of the “bespoke” experience!! Don’t get me started on that.
Of course, I have to curb the overwhelming urge to tell people that “you” and “me” are just fine for ME (as they should be for YOU), as that would reveal my own snobbery in reaction to their inverted, or misplaced, or attempted snobbery; so sharpening corrosive social divisions.

That would not be good for a country, or what is left of it, that recently saw two old Etonians, David Cameron and Boris Johnson, duel over Britain’s European future and produce a disaster for myself, yourself, herself, himself and just about any self.
There is no doubt, at least for myself, that this reflexive pronoun business has now outstripped apostrophe abuse as the supreme grammatical annoyance. Its such an irritant in it’s way — perhaps also to yourselve’s?!?!
There is also the uncontrolled use of the word “pop” to consider — “pop a signature on there,” “pop your seat upright,” “pop me an e-mail” — but it’s a short word that falls within the ambit of that maddeningly meaningless phrase: It is what it is.
Now if any British corporation “reached out” to its employees on the issue of the misuse of reflexive pronouns, it would probably have to “take the issue offline” because of its sensitivity, “unpack” all the nuances, make discussion of it “a regular thing going forward,” “drill down” as far as possible, “get its ducks in a row” before deciding to “action” any change, and generally have a “thought shower” (“brainstorm” is now, it seems, considered offensive to epileptics) about how its clients “themselves” might react.
Not bothering with all this is clearly a no-brainer!!!
I know that there is no escaping the little irritants in life, like asking for ice in your Coke in France and getting a single ice cube; or the beeps and pings that now issue from every electronic contraption; or seeing a bottle of good wine emptied by some overzealous sommelier into four glasses filled almost to the brim; or losing out to the fine print; or being defeated in the quest to speak to a human being by some devilish labyrinth of automated responses; or having to listen to an explanation of why anyone would want a driverless car; or password hell; or just finding yourself in an airport alongside all the other suckers who know for a fact that whatever happened to Osama bin Laden was grossly insufficient punishment.
So it goes. You just have to breathe deeply and be grateful for the gift of breath. YOLO! Don’t get me started on that, either.
The English reflexive pronoun thing has not crossed the Atlantic, yet, but “no worries” has (having previously made the longer crossing from Australia). I’m just not in a space right now where I can deal with that. (“Oh, really, where are you then?”)
It may just be time to “offboard” as I’m not sure I have the “bandwidth” to be “looped” into a discussion of how anyone can say “no worries” at this particular moment in history, whatever side of the Atlantic himself or herself happens to be situated on. I mean that’s just beyond. What would be even the thematic tent poles of the debate? I can’t even!!
Let’s face it: “Does that work for yourself?” is never going to work in New York City, which would rather tell you to “drop dead” than adopt that affectation. So there are limits to the global homogenization of bad English after all. Neither deference nor pomposity is a New York thing. America is not classless; it’s just not class obsessed.
That in plain English will about do it for myself.

Friday, 29 July 2016

So Called Thoughts

A few wisps of something vaguely resembling thought have been drifting through my head as I go about my business in these rather unsettling times.

For instance, after unavoidably glimpsing a picture of a blonde US politician who always appears to be on the brink of exploding, overcome by an inner volcano of rage and irrational hatred, it struck me that describing someone as "self-contained" is peculiar, in that it would be fairly dreadful if we weren't all adequately contained within our own skins. I mean, just imagine the alternative.

Following this peculiar revelation, in order to cleanse my mind of the glimpsed image I went out for a country walk. Not perhaps entirely disconnectedly, it then occurred to me how odd it is that humans are the only creatures I know of that can't eat any old thing, no matter how raw it is, regardless of whether it is fly-ridden or muddy or whatever. Hygiene doesn't seem to be important for a cow or a crow. I say" not entirely disconnectedly" because the thought of such creatures, having eaten their dirty foodstuffs, being unself-contained is an even less attractive one than the thought of unself-contained humanity.

To distract myself from all these unsavoury prospects, I sat down on a bench and sent some utterly unnecessary emails. I did this purely to hear that lovely whooshing sound emails make when you send them from a telephone. Is it just me, or is it very cheering, on a par with the rustle of an emptying electronic wastebin, but far more readily available? Whoosh, whoosh, gosh, does it really matter that the world is on the brink of who knows what, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

You've Got Mail

In an aeroplane recently, I was given a copy of the Daily Mail. It was the first time I'd read that newspaper, (if that's what it is), and it revealed a new world to me - multiple-dishwasher-world to be precise.

One woman was featured because she has been converted to double dishwasherhood:


 Two others can no longer live without four:
 "For me, the desire for multiple dishwashers is rooted in my childhood" - is that not one of the greatest lines ever uttered?

 What are we coming to? Particularly when you consider this, from the Financial Times, which I also read on the same trip:


 Why can we not be at least a little more like Angela Burdett-Coutts; why is the magazine How to Spend It devoted to yachts, watches and, possibly, diamond encrusted dishwashers, rather than deserving charities to suit all tastes:



 While I quite liked the description of what Daily Mail journalists believe to be the Princess Royal's natural habitat:


 I think the very clever Twitter poet, Brian Billston, should have the last word on the paper:




 PS The Times is scarcely better than the Mail now, so far as I can see. And, on that note, while this is some months old, is anyone else surprised to note that spending £14 on a pair of tights has somehow become frugality?



Monday, 4 July 2016

Just Listen - Moscow by Jack Grimwood, Audible Book

I bought this because it is set in Moscow in the 1980s and I was in Moscow in the 1980s. I also read a review that said it was fascinating and evoked the atmosphere of that time and place. It isn’t and it doesn’t.

On the setting front, apart from name-checking a few Soviet car makes and having his hero smoke papirosi (as if - I’ve tried them, yeurgh, no one would choose to, given any sort of choice -  and he has plenty) the writer does not make much effort to conjure up Moscow at that era, especially for readers who never witnessed it firsthand.  But then it would not surprise me if Mr Grimwood never witnessed it at first hand himself, but just checked Google to find his few his few scraps of superficial local colour.

As to the “fascinating” claim, the book is an unoriginal if “racy” whodunnit that involves a lot of specifying of car and motor bike horsepower, a lot of male drinking and a lot of violence, usually applied to women - and in those cases described with what strikes me as creepily meticulous detail.

The characters are as substantial as steam and the only thing that marks the novel out from all the other books of its kind, (I think the Italians call these kinds of novels “gialli”?), is its setting, (see above for the disappointing nature of same), plus the fact that the author has thrown in Northern-Ireland-conflict-PTSD for good measure and added the requisite quota of "sexy ladies" who flirt and even sometimes fall into bed with the hero - because that’s what women are for, right?

I didn’t enjoy the book, but I’m sure lots of people, (mainly male?) would. That doesn’t stop it being total rubbish really - but it is not too badly read by one of Audible's narrators. How he managed to take the text seriously is beyond me.