Friday, 5 August 2016

Website Comments

IF you read a lot of newspaper website comments you will soon suspect the world is full of ranting fuckwits with very little brain.

After years working as a reporter I already suspected the madness of the human race, I am now utterly convinced that most people in the world are barking - or at least the ones who can be arsed to write comments are.

In many posts a speck of punctuation is as rare as elephant’s feathers. Nothing has a capital letter. Nothing. No proper noun, no first letter of a sentence, no first person pronoun. i dont no why it upsets me so much but it does

No one reads the actual story but they read into it their own prejudices and deduce what they think the writer is saying.

At one point, quite a few years ago now, the website comments on the newspaper I worked for had to be moderated and the sub-editing team took it in turns to read them all. All. Every single one had to be read before it was posted. At the end of a shift you felt like your soul had been sucked from you and replaced by dust.

It was depressing how paranoid some of the readers were. I am not much of website commenter, having lot of paint to watch dry. But if  I had left a comment and it hadn’t appeared, my immediate reaction would be that there had been a technical blip or I had done something wrong. Not our readers. Oh no.


Who is this army of judgemental people with so much time on their hands that they can be bothered to fill in a  comment form to write something inane or just plain nasty? Who sits down to write horrible things about people they have never met? It's the only time I feel sorry for celebrities who come in for blistering attacks because of the way they look.

I came across this post from The Poke in 2014 where they had replaced headlines on stories with actual comments from the Daily Mail. Read it here.

I rest my case.

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Sunday, 24 July 2016

Man Cave

Ah. It's Sunday. The day the better half reads the Sunday papers and goes off on random rants about various articles.

I've got off lightly today. His only rant has been on the subject of "man caves", a term which really annoys him.

"If you mean an effing shed, call it an effing shed. Oo, I've put my collection of 1980s Playboy magazines in my man cave.

"NO! You're a pervert with a shed!"

Got to love him!

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Wednesday, 20 July 2016


To my friends across the world:

This is what it is like in the UK when the sun shines for longer than a couple of hours!  The weather has been glorious for TWO whole days - hot and sunny. All our news bulletins, national and local, have featured the weather and all our newspapers carry pictures of people enjoying themselves on the beach. The rest of the world must think we're nuts!

Got up this morning and it's clouding over. Normality returns...

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Thursday, 16 June 2016

Being Polite

THE story about a young man who spotted his granny's Google search, complete with please and thank you is the best I've read today! (See it in full here.)

It epitomises a generation that was always taught to say "please" and "thank you" and it also says something about innate British politeness. I can't pretend that there aren't plenty of rude and thoughtless British people, unfortunately, but for many of us, politeness is a way of life.

It's the kind of politeness that makes you say sorry to the person who bumped into you. It's when you're asked in the hairdresser's whether your haircut is to you liking and you reply, "Lovely, thank you," while hating it with a passion, or complaining bitterly about the food throughout a meal in a restaurant but when the waiter asks if everything is OK you say, "It's fine thank you." It's saying thank you to the traffic warden while he's handing you a parking ticket.

There are phrases we use which on the face of it sound polite but have a hidden meaning, like, "with all due respect" which means "no respect at all".

Then there are the simple requests that have to be voiced in a convoluted way. You can't just say to a colleague, "Give me that report," but you'll say, "I wonder, could you possibly get that report for me? If you don't mind."

Another polite pastime of the British is queuing. Queues are sacrosanct. Don't jump a queue unless you want a polite British person to tap you on the shoulder and say, "Would you mind awfully getting to the back of the queue? I'm sorry to ask but we've been waiting here longer than you." There, you've been told!

If you are confused here is a handy glossary of British terms and their translation.

One of my favourite quotes about politeness is actually by an American, the writer Robert A Heinlein, who said:  “A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.” 

Thank you for reading this post and I hope you liked it. But no worries if you didn't, it's perfectly fine.

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Friday, 13 May 2016

Living Off Grid

I WAS reading a post from my other blog That's Purrfect written by the genipuss Carlton Cat (I know, I know, a talking cat..... what can I say? All my cynical sensibilities fly out the window when it comes to cats.)

Anyway, it reminded me of a post I wrote for Devon Life magazine back in September. So here it is:

by Maid in Devon (that's me!)

I HAVE been reading a lot lately about living "off grid". As far as I can see this can range from complete self-sufficiency - including sourcing your own water, growing all your own food and producing your own electricity - to living in a cottage with solar power and a vegetable garden.

The latter appeals to me. The former conjures up images of Americans living in the Appalachian Mountains wearing camouflage gear, carrying AK-47 assault rifles to keep the "danged govermint" away and with enough flour, dried beans and canned goods to last a lifetime.

In fact, I spotted a book called The Prepper's Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn YourEmergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals. I'm not kidding.

In my own little corner of Devon I have dispensed with weapons, a well and a barn holding enough food to live out a meltdown in civilisation. I do, however, have room to grow some vegetables.
I have visions of a "grow your own" lifestyle - eating with the seasons, doing all my own baking, making jams and chutneys and storing my turnips in a sand barrel. If only when he'd built our house the better half had thought to include a root cellar I would be well away. No forward thinking; that's his trouble.

I'd keep chickens if I could but the deeds to our house expressly forbid it. Presumably it also precludes keeping a pig for slaughter and a cow for milk. I must look it up. If it doesn't, the neighbours are going to love me.

I am already on the way to being more self-sufficient. A couple of weeks ago I took delivery of a wormery. This, says all the blurb, is "an easy, efficient system of converting ordinary kitchen food waste into liquid feed and rich organic compost". I have set it up in the garden, added the tiger worms, and put some kitchen waste in it.

The Joy of Keeping A Root Cellar
So far all that has happened is that an army of tiger worms has crawled up the sides, presumably in a vain attempt to escape, and the kitchen waste has lain there, undigested and about as far from "liquid feed and rich organic compost" as you can get. But it's early days and all my wormery fanatic friends tell me to be patient and in a few weeks I will have so much fertiliser that I can dig up the field beside the house and grow wheat to make my own bread.  Must look out some plans for a mill.

We already have an efficient multifuel-burner which heats the water and runs the radiators. It's just a pity we don't have our own forest so we can chop down wood. The better half is a cabinet-maker, though, so we have plenty of off-cuts to burn. It’s “multi-fuel” so you can burn just about anything in it. We haven’t experimented as we don’t want to be throwing toxic fumes up into the atmosphere. We have also drawn the line at throwing in dead animals as I have read some farmers do. No - wood, coal, paper and the occasional piece of cardboard have been our limit.   

When I was child, living on a farm in the wilds of North Devon, we had our own generator for many years until we were connected to the mains. It was a pain having to start it up every day. I remember charging the carburettor (I think that’s what it was!) with petrol and turning the handle repeatedly until it decided, reluctantly, to cough, splutter and get going; and it was very noisy. Still, it was worth it to generate enough electricity to watch our new-fangled black and white cabinet TV showing such delights as Dixon of Dock Green, Z-Cars and The Interlude. 

I think these days generators are quieter and easier to get going but even so I can't see myself cranking one up every day.

Solar panels are a better option – not prohibitively expensive and fairly efficient. I decided against going down the wind turbine route - the neighbours having enough trouble with my pig and cow.
It's easy to collect rain in butts to reduce the water rates and to conserve water - not that we don't get plenty of the stuff falling from the skies here in Devon. Even so, I’m told we should all do our bit to use less from our taps.

I have toyed with the idea of composting toilets having read that the flush lavatory uses 30 per cent of the UK's water supply. Even Glastonbury Festival has replaced its chemical loos with smell-free, waterless, composting toilets. Those of a delicate disposition should look away now…the fact is human faeces in the presence of oxygen breaks down into pathogen-free compost and urine is sterile and full of nitrogen - in other words, ideal fertiliser. Although I’m not, as some people do, going to start peeing on my plants, you’ll be pleased to hear – but not half so pleased as those poor long-suffering neighbours.

But all that is for the future. For the moment the pristine, flushable loo in the bathroom will have to suffice. 

I admit I have some way to go before I can in any shape or form claim to be self-sufficient. The few cherry tomatoes and my "cut and come again” lettuces I have managed to grow are hardly going to sustain the household should the country encounter some ecological or man-made catastrophe which cuts off all supplies. 

If we ever get to the stage I might have to reconsider my ban on the AK-47 assault rifle and persuade the better half to start constructing that root cellar.
  • You can subscribe to Devon Life here. There's a big offer on at the moment.

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Monday, 9 May 2016

In Which I Enter A Man's World

Tyre-fitter - or tire-fitter as my American friends write.

Soooo, this is what a man's world looks like, is it? I'm in some kind of tyre-fitting place, sent by the dearly beloved to replace a worn tyre. I'm not used to this car business, having been spoiled for years and years by having a company car. It was all done for me. A nice man came around at work and checked the tread. If a tyre needed replacing, it was replaced.

Since leaving the company, the dearly beloved has sorted out all my vehicle-related needs. Except today. He's too busy.

"But I've got three perfectly good tyres!" I tell  him. He looks at me as if I have crawled out from under a stone wearing a hat with the label BIMBO in the brim.

"Yes, sweetheart, tell that to the nice policeman when he stops you and to the magistrates when they fine you £200 and put three penalty points on your licence." He can be VERY sarcastic when he wants to be.

So I drive into "some kind of tyre-fitting place". I don't want to appear as if I'm a know-nothing woman who they can rip off. Even though I AM a know-nothing woman who they could quite easily rip off.

So I nonchalantly walk up to the desk, put my arm across the counter and look the assistant in the eye. "New tyre, please."

"No problem, madam, what do you want?"

What does he mean, "what do I want"? I've just told him. I want a new tyre. He looks at my puzzled face and reels off a list of options. I still look puzzled and he says he'll send someone to look at my car and see what tyres are already on there, then they can fit the same type.

So that's all sorted and I settle down to wait. But I realise I am losing the "I know what I'm doing" game so I wander over to the coffee machine - then they will know I have some mechanical skills at least. I don't know what I did but the coffee machine resolutely refuses to produce a beverage. Nice man comes over from behind the desk, presses a few buttons and I have my coffee.

I go back to the bench to drink my coffee and read a magazine dated June, 2011.

I'm half way through the quiz, "Are you a tomboy or a girly girl?" when I'm told my car is ready. Now I shall never know whether I should be wearing oil-stained jeans or a flowery, floaty dress.

Man behind counter tells me how much I have to pay - one arm and one leg, it looks like. There are lots of extra things on the bill like balancing, alignment and VAT. I blink, wonder briefly if I should query anything - but it all looks official. There's nothing on there that says "know-nothing woman rates apply", so I pay up.

I leave the tyre-fitting place feeling strangely and misguidedly proud of myself. I have entered a man's world and emerged intact

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Friday, 6 May 2016

Not Always Right

THERE is a website called Not Always Right in which people serving the public list all their gripes about customers.

The ones below made me laugh. I worked in newspapers for more than 30 years and this is typical of the kind of phone call we'd get. I once had a call from a local villain who had come up in court - yet again. He said he was calling to complain because he hadn't given us permission to use his name in the paper. I politely explained that we didn't need permission to name people in court. Unless there was a court order forbidding it, we always named people.

"That's not the f***ing point," he yelled at me. "Don't you realise, I've been trying to keep my name OUT of the papers and now you've ruined it!"

I was going to comment that if he didn't go around burgling people's houses, we wouldn't be reporting his court case, but he hung up.

Not Always Right conversations

Me: *on the phone* “**** Newspaper, can I help you?”

Caller: “Hi, is this the obituaries?”

Me: “Yes ma’am, it is.”

Caller: “I need to place one.”

Me: “OK ma’am. You can send that to me via fax or email.”

Caller: “What do they typically say?”

Me: “They vary, but some good information is where the individual was born, when they passed away–”

Caller: “Oh, he’s not dead yet.”

Me: “I–I’m sorry?”

Caller: “He’s very sick, though. Should be any day.”

Me: “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we can’t run an obituary until the individual has died.”

Caller: *sighs heavily* “Well that’s VERY inconvenient.” *hangs up*

Then there was this one:

(I used to work in a small town newspaper. Most everyone would leave earlier in the afternoon and one person would be left to man the phones for an hour or so in the newsroom. This day, I’m the only staff member on hand, and there’s a guy using our microfilm for research. The phone rings.)

Me: “Hello, this is [Newspaper]. Can I help you?”

Lady: “Yes! I am very upset! I just read an article in your paper about the fire that destroyed our house and everything in it is wrong!”

Me: “Oh, I’m sorry about that… Can you tell me who wrote the article?”

Lady: “It’s [Name I’ve never heard].”

Me: “Uh… I’m not familiar with that name but…”

Lady: “No, wait, it’s [Reporter].”

Me: “Oh! Yes… he isn’t in the office today, but he should be in tomorrow about seven.”

Lady: “I want this taken care of now! You have no idea what we’ve been through! I just now got around to reading the article and I see all this wrong stuff and it’s like it happened all over again! I want him to rewrite the whole thing!”

Me: *thinking I’ll grab a copy of the paper and re-read the article* “Can you tell me when the article was written?”

Lady: “The fire happened in May!”

Me: “But it’s now October…”

Lady: “So?”

Me: “Ma’am, I’m sorry but that happened five months ago. We’re not going to be able to redo the story.”

Lady: “BUT WHY NOT?! He got EVERYTHING wrong!”

Me: “I understand that, but so much time has passed and—”

Me: “It’s [Editor], but she’s going to tell you the same thing.”

(By now the guy at the microfilm machine is watching me with a “WTF?” expression.)

Lady: “I’m going to call her tomorrow! And you’re going to reprint this! You don’t know what I’ve been through!” *hangs up*

(I explain the conversation to the guy at the microfilm.)

Microfilm Guy: “If it was so important, why did she wait five months to read the article?”

Me: “I should have asked her that.”

(When I got to work the next morning my editor asked about the note I left her and then asked the same question. To our knowledge the woman never called back.)

 Finally, there was this one:

(Our newspaper always gets strange calls. After one story I wrote about first aid training at the Red Cross, I get the following call from a reader…)

Me: “Hello, [newspaper]. How may I help you?”

Reader: “Yeah, I’m here at the Red Cross.”

Me: “… okay?”

Reader: “They just told me the first aid class you wrote about is full.”

Me: “Oh, okay.”

Reader: *silence*

Me: “Sir? What’s the problem?”

Reader: “Well, I have a friend who really needs to get into this class, but they said it’s full!”

Me: “I’m so sorry, sir.”

Reader: “Well?”

Me: “I’m sorry?”

 Reader: “Well, what are you going to do about it? Can’t you tell them to add a seat to the class?”

Me: “Umm, no, sir. I’m just a reporter. I can’t tell the Red Cross what to do. I’m sorry your friend can’t get in the class in time.”

Reader: “Well, what is he supposed to do? He needs the training now!”

Me: “Well, I believe the hospital teaches a first aid class.”

Reader: “They do? Can you call them for me?”

Me: “No, sir, I’m afraid I have a tight deadline today. I can’t take the time to look into that. Maybe you could call your friend and tell him?”

Reader: *sarcastically* “Yeah, whatever. Thanks for your help.”

I'm sure lots of my former colleagues have similar stories to tell. The vast majority of customers are lovely but any job in which you are dealing with the public can be frustrating and often hilarious.

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