Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The Cost of the War in Iraq . . .

Just Foreign Policy Iraqi Death Estimator

Cost to the US of the War in Iraq
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Monday, 29 October 2007

Too busy to blog anymore?

Oh dear - it's been almost a whole week since my last post, and people have even been emailing me to ask if I'm OK!

I'm very touched by the concern - thank you - it makes blogland feel rather like the sort of neighbourhood where people start to make enquiries if you don't take the milk in one morning.

Actually, I'm absolutely fine, thanks - just quite monstrously busy with work, on top of which it was half term last week and there were men in replacing the central heating boiler and all the carefully planned sequential workflow has morphed somehow into one vast mountain of urgent work. A veritable Bass Rock of piled-up deadlines and I am deep in gannet guano.

I haven't even been walking the dog - the children have been doing that through the holidays - so no beach pics, either. I did manage to spend a couple of hours with friends at their beach hut on Friday, but forgot to take the camera, which was a shame because it was an invisible horizon day - the uniformly grey sea and sky merged into one another completely in the eerie stillness.

Normal service will be resumed shortly, but meanwhile, I'd just like to announce how very much I hate the 'word' anymore!

One comes across anymore in blogs and magazines all the time, of course, but I spotted it in a novel I'm reading and it leaped out at me so forcefully that I thought it was time I checked to see whether this is an unreasonable personal loathing, or whether (should I have been the book's copy editor, which I was not), I would have been perfectly 'correct' to split it into two words.

Don't worry. This isn't going to be a rant about what's correct and incorrect in English as She is Written. I take a professional interest in such matters, naturally, but I'm not one of those apoplectic grammarians I've mentioned before who spend their lives waging war against syntactical heresy of one kind or another.

I turned, as so often, to the incomparable http://www.askoxford.com/ , which allows one to dip into the Oxford English Corpus - the fullest, most accurate picture of the language today. Comprising some two billion words of real twenty-first century English, it provides the evidence of how language is used in real situations, and it is employed by lexicographers as a basis for writing accurate and meaningful dictionary entries. It includes all types of English, from literary novels and specialist journals to everyday newspapers and magazines and from Hansard to the language of chatrooms, emails and (crucially) blogs.

Here's what it has to say about anymore:

Some day or someday?
A number of common words in English started out as two-word phrases and eventually became fused as single-word forms: forever, somebody, everyone.

The Oxford English Corpus shows the process continuing today. The chart below gives some examples. For instance, it shows that the phrase some time now appears as the fused single-word form sometime in 32% of all occurrences in American English and 19% of all occurrences in British English.

The tendency to fuse fixed expressions is more common in American than British English. In American English someday has now become more or less standard, substantially outnumbering occurrences of some day; anymore and underway look set to follow. Although the same trend is apparent in British English, it tends to lag behind.

Does the corpus suggest any patterns in the fusing of expressions in single words?
Fused forms almost always emerge first in informal English (the weblog and chatroom parts of corpus) and are much slower to spread to more formal, edited text such as newspapers and magazines; of the examples shown here, only someday is well represented across all text types.

Fused forms seem to spread more easily if there is a direct analogy with an existing word: anymore benefits from the analogy with anyone and anybody, whereas ofcourse is almost non-existent because there are no analogous of- words.

The tendency to fuse may be stronger when the phrase occurs at the end of a clause: 84% of instances of anymore occur at the end of a clause, compared with 46% of instances of any more.

(You'll need to click on the table to enlarge it sufficiently to read.)

So there we have it. Anymore is far more prevalent in American usage than in 'standard' English English - I think we all knew that. It will doubtless in my lifetime become universally accepted - and there's little I can do about that. And, logically, of course, if we can have anyone and anything, why not anymore? There is no logical argument against it whatever. It will happen. I'm not the copy editor of this book. It's not my concern. Why should I care?

Irrationally, I do care. It will take a lot to persuade me to like, use or endorse anymore in written English. Sorry!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007


OK, so it's far-fetched trash, but I like to think it's intelligent far-fetched trash.

When ER's not on (or the Rugby World Cup), it's the only thing I watch on telly!

Tonight, 9.00, BBC1.

Good day at the office, dear?

My photo of the intriguing Harbourmaster's Office at St Abbs is now on Alex's Shedworking blog!

I can't recommend Shedworking highly enough. Although it's aimed primarly at those who live, work or play in sheds, it's a fascinating read for all homeworkers, gardeners, beach-hut devotees or simply anyone who fancies a glimpse into the quirky world of shed-like structures. It's updated several times every day, so there's always something new and interesting to see and read about.


Seeing Diane's gorgeous black Scottish Labrador has inspired me to post this pic of my own black Lab's recent meanderings in the mud.


For the most fabulous pic of TBTM (yesterday, so strictly speaking TBYM), see Sam's blog.

Following the footsteps of Ebbe

On the last day of my brief northern adventure, Rachel and I walked from Coldingham village down to Coldingham Bay. On the way, we strolled round the ruins of Coldingham Priory - which, luckily for us, was holding a special open day for some visiting archaeologists and schoolchildren, so we were able to go inside the restored church.

Coldingham Bay is popular with surfers, and there were a few brave souls bobbing around out there in the crashing waves, though we didn’t notice any of them actually standing on their boards and doing the full Old Spice routine. I’m not a water baby. And especially not a freezing cold turbulent water baby. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to be out there in the North Sea under such conditions. I suppose it must be quite exhilarating, in a muscular, masculine sort of a way, but it’s not something which appeals to me one little tiny bit.

Scaled some steep steps and followed the cliff path round to St Abbs – where another hardy species can be found: the diver. Apparently the water is incredibly clear a long way out, and there are underwater rock formations to swim through and scary-looking Arctic wolf-fish to view. Well, I wish them joy of it – I think I can safely predict that I will never be seen in a wet suit and flippers.

Drank a coffee of almost Cafe Royal proportions in a harbour-side cafe and made our way back across the sands to Coldingham.

And then it was time to head back into Berwick-upon-Tweed and the long journey home to the Muddy Island. Which took six hours.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Rock cakes

On the second day of my brief Scottish holiday, Rachel, her husband and I drove north-west from Coldingham, through Dunbar, past Tantallon Castle (closed that day) and on to North Berwick.

Dominated on its landward side by Berwick Law, and from the sea by the Bass Rock, North Berwick struck me as a highly desirable place to live. It has streets of very attractive colour-washed terraced houses with contrasting coloured window- and door-frames. It is closely proximate both to Edinburgh and to vast stretches of rolling countryside (I loved the burgundy-coloured soil of the ploughed fields, basking in the crisp golden light of another sunny autumn day). It boasts some excellent shops and eating places. Most of all, it lays claim to a particularly fabulous chunk of coastline.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off the Bass Rock. It has an astonishing pull – like a magnet. The seabirds clearly feel it too. I think perhaps it’s the fact that this spectacularly inhospitable lump of volcano, jutting from a notoriously choppy bit of sea, has actually been inhabited by humankind for much of its (comparatively) recent history. From St Baldred in the 8th century, to the wretched prisoners held there in the State Prison built there in the 17th century (the appalling barbarity of which is described here), to the keepers stationed on the lighthouse, built in 1902.

The day of my visit, the light shining on the rock (white, courtesy of the 140,000 gannets residing there for ten months a year) was quite mesmerising.

Between coastal walks, we lunched at the Bella Italia – an authentic 1970s-style Italian restaurant, with decor to marvel at (though probably best not to try to replicate at home) and an excellent pasta menu.

Having subsequently expended a modicum of energy clambering over rocks and trudging across expanses of flat golden sand, we nipped into Tea at Tiffanys for a restorative cup of tea. Not long opened, this is a gem of a tea-room, with gorgeous magenta walls, sparkling chandeliers and friendly personal service from the owner (we ordered tea for three and two big pots arrived with a promise of as much more to follow as we cared to consume).

The crockery is all vintage china – Rachel was given a green cup, saucer and plate because it matched her jumper – and the warm chocolate cake with ice cream came in a large dish which struggled to contain the oozing delights within. I’m assured that it is, in fact, the best chocolate cake ever.

I plumped [funny how that word just sprang to mind!] for pancakes with maple syrup and (oops) ice cream. I think it is the only time in my life that I’ve eaten ice cream with a dinner fork – which is how it was served - but it this a very small cavil considering that I’d probably have eaten it out of a trough on the floor if I’d had to, it was so delicious.

Slightly regretted not having time to visit The Pennyfarthing antique and book shop on Quality Street (yes, really – and no toffees in purple cellophane to be seen). But given my unfortunate inability to walk into a secondhand book shop and emerge carrying less than a half-hundredweight of must-have books, it is probably just as well. I’d have had to courier them home to myself at vast expense.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

'. . . holding up clouds with three syllables . . .'

Here's another Wild Goose Poem for you (see some of my previous posts).

This one is brand new and hot off the press. It's by Michael Gravel , who's a poet in Edmonton, Alberta. It landed in my email inbox one Friday last month because I'm on Michael's Friday's Poem mailing list (why not sign up yourself? - his poems are brilliant and thought-provoking and they can brighten up a working Friday in a flash).

I didn't publish it here when it first arrived (even though its timing was so very apt), because it's ©, and I couldn't link to it because it wasn't on Michael's website at the time.

But it is now, so click here to enjoy Wild Geese

‘One can love a country until it hurts’

It was good to have finished Alexander McCall Smith’s The Careful Use of Compliments just days before visiting Edinburgh. I’ve long been a fan of McCall Smith’s effortless, cool prose – and reading one of his Scotland Street or Isabel Dalhousie novels is like enjoying a particularly fine afternoon tea, with perfectly assembled sandwiches and cakes, partaken in the company of some delightful and interesting friends. There’s a hint of cosiness, but never anything too sweet or cloying. When I started reading, I was a little worried that this latest offering was going to fall short of its predecessors and I began to wonder whether there was a hint of the formulaic – a good idea grown a little tired and lifeless. Luckily, my fears were allayed once the book got going (or perhaps once I got going with it), and I ended up enjoying it every bit as much as I had the previous books in the series.

On my train journey from Berwick-upon-Tweed into Edinburgh on Wednesday, following the coast round to the west, via Dunbar and North Berwick - the Bass Rock glowing yellowy-white in the autumn sunshine as if illuminated from within, the Firth of Forth an inky blue – I remembered the words of Isabel Dalhousie: ‘The whole point of being in Scotland was that one was in Scotland’ and ‘One can love a country until it hurts’.

Spent the morning mainly exploring the Old Town streets and shops – revisiting familiar places and happening upon new ones.

Top favourite shopping discovery for the day was Ragamuffin, on the corner of Canongate and the Royal Mile. A sensory treasure-house of hand-made textiles – from coats, shirts and skirts, to knitwear and accessories, including some by Hume sweet Hume (a big favourite of mine). I was in heaven – though it took me an age and a half to make a decision between the hundreds of delights on offer.

In the end I contracted a sudden onset of Bookshop Syndrome and came out with two items instead of one – well, three, in fact, but one was definitely a birthday present for a friend rather than a(nother) greedy self-indulgence. I told myself quite convincingly that I’d keep one scarf and give the other as a Christmas present, but once I got them home I realised that they’d both accidentally ended up in my chest of drawers. I can’t think how that happened, but I guess I’ll simply have to accept, gracefully, that it has, and try to make the best of things.

The softest imaginable, mossy knitted alpaca scarf:

Festive textures and intense, rich colour (this photo doesn’t do it justice at all):

The one thing I was really looking for – the much-needed Timberland boots - eluded me all morning. Just wasn’t in the right part of the city.

Lunched in the justly renowned Cafe Royal Bar:

Click here and scroll down to see the huge tile portraits of famous inventors which are a special feature of the decor – I sat directly beneath Robert Peel having a eureka moment with his calico printing machine.

Ordered Guinness (naturally) and a smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber sandwich. The latter came, rather surprisingly, with a portion of plump, crisp chips and a leafy side-salad. Chips with sandwiches? Well, it is Scotland – and with all that running up and down steep hills and steps all over the city, I suppose the extra calories are probably deemed necessary. I chomped my way happily through the lot without demur, anyway.

A huge coffee followed, which I enjoyed while perusing that morning’s Scotsman newspaper. I gave up on the crossword after a minute and a half (crosswords have never been my forte - or even my pianissimo), but enjoyed an episode of Volume 5 of Alexander McCall Smith’s tales from Scotland Street, which are serialised in the paper before being published in book form.

Decided to tackle the shops on Princes Street and its environs in a final desperate push for some Sensible Footwear. Eventually found a branch of Jones on George Street which stocked a pair of Timberland Nellies in my size. Not pink, not lilac, not blue or red or purple. Just boring brown. But they did the trick – my feet went ‘ahhhh, thank you’; my Visa card went ‘ouch!’, and I got a free bar of chocolate at the till for being a good girl.

Suitably attired for a good brisk walk, I set off for the Gallery of Modern Art , which is off to the West, over the Water of Leith, and just beyond Dean village. Bathed in sumptuous golden light, the city looked ethereally beautiful. I had never seen Edinburgh in anything other than damp, grey weather, so it was an absolute treat and a delight.

Water of Leith from Belford Bridge.

The Virgin of Alsace by Bourdelle - in the grounds of the Dean Gallery.

Charles Jencks' prizewinning Landform Ueda - a stepped, serpentine-shaped mound and crescent-shaped pools of water in the grounds at the front of the gallery. Part artwork, part landscaping - you can climb all over it and I wish I'd had time to exploit its huge photographic potential.

The Gallery is a favourite haunt of old. Its permanent collection includes the paintings which, aged 15, inspired me to study Art History. Here are some I particularly love. I can’t describe how wonderful it was to see them up close and personal once again:

Bonnard - View of the River, Vernon 1923.

Derain - Collioure 1905.

Matisse - The Painting Lesson 1919.
Vuillard - Nature morte au bougeoir c.1900.

Peploe - Still Life c.1913.

Having arrived later than intended, I didn’t have time to do justice to the current Richard Long exhibition, unfortunately, though there were some interesting pieces dotted around outside the show itself – notably Cornish Slate Cross, which I was able to survey while enjoying a Nice Cup of Tea in the gallery cafe.

Back into town – now teeming with people who’d finished work – to meet a friend for tea before my train home. Went to The Elephant House – an intriguingly decorated cafe, which claims to be 'The Birthplace of Harry Potter', because this is apparently where J K Rowling often 'mulled over a coffee writing her first Harry Potter novel'. (I suspect that places where this is supposed to have occurred will soon be as ubiquitous as venues claiming that ‘Elizabeth I slept here’, or 'Mary, Queen of Scots was held captive here’.)

There wasn't a lot of time before my train back to Berwick, but we managed several cups of Earl Grey. There's nothing like drinking tea in a good cafe in excellent company!

Soon I was speeding eastward through the dark on the King's Cross train. There was nothing to see from the windows, so I flicked through my Companion Guide to the Gallery and reflected on my long but thoroughly rewarding, sunny and memorable day.