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Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Ups and Downs

This is the time of the year when many people focus on the UPs and DOWNs of their favourite football team. With championships and play-offs and relegation battles there is a considerable amount of money at stake for many clubs as they face the final few days of the football season.

That got me to thinking about the words “UP” and “DOWN”. Both have many uses and I thought it would be fun to explore some of them here.

I would suggest that the little word UP has perhaps more meanings than any other two-letter-word in the English language. When we start the day, we wake UP. At any meeting we might attend there will be topics which come UP. At that same meeting some officers might be UP for election. It will be the responsibility of the secretary to write UP the minutes of the meeting and we might call UP our friends to tell them what a terrible meeting we have experienced.

You may look UP to someone, the weather might brighten UP, a beautiful baby might light UP our lives when we see her first smile. As that child grows UP she might play dressing UP or she might clean UP her bedroom or fix UP a meal for someone. She might even travel UP to London… and I’m starting to dry UP of ideas now, I think!

In the reversal of this we might dress DOWN for an occasion or even look DOWN on someone else who is there. If you break the law you could be sent DOWN by the judge or magistrate. Watership DOWN is the book, and film. Sadly, some people suffer with DOWN Syndrome.

For the sports fans among us there is the terrible threat of going DOWN to a lower division or league. This is balanced by the sheer delight of the fans whose team is coming UP!

All this takes me back to my courting days when I took my girlfriend (now wife) to a concert by Steeleye Span, an UP and coming folk-rock group of the 70s who are still around today. One of the songs this group sang is “The Ups and Downs” which I think is a nickname for a regiment of soldiers - it was a fun song anyway and I was pleased to see the lyrics are still available on the Internet.

It can be great fun to play around with words, and explore their odd uses and dream UP ways of using a particular word, whether you are writing a story, a poem or even a letter or email to a friend. There are writing courses which explore all of these.

I never get tired of playing with words and having fun with them. How about you?

Now I will shut UP!

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Thursday, 23 April 2009

Until recently, piracy was all about counterfeit goods!

Look up the word ‘piracy’ on any Internet search engine and you will be presented with lots of references to the production of forged DVDs or computer software or such like. But now, with the situation concerning the Somali Pirates escalating, we have reverted back to the meaning of the word and piracy is all about stealing boats and goods on the high seas.

However, did you know that until as recently as July 1998, piracy with violence was still a Capital Offence in England, which meant it carried the death penalty? It is hard to believe that as recently as that it was still technically possible to receive the death penalty for this crime.

There is a great deal of information to be found on the internet concerning the Death Penalty in Britain. I think a key date was probably 1808. This was the time when Samuel Romilly introduced reforms to abolish the penalty for around 200 crimes of a less serious nature. Up until then, it was possible to be hung for such ridiculous offences as “being in the company of gypsies for one month” or “vagrancy for a soldier or sailor”. Romilly really did set things in motion to clean up what became know as the “Bloody Code” in England and Wales.

However, it was not until Sidney Silverman’s private members bill of 1965 that the death penalty was suspended for five years, to eventually be abolished for almost all crimes in 1969. The last two people to be executed in England were Peter Allen and Gwynne Evans who were hung on 13th August 1964. The 13th really was an unlucky date for these to men.

The final twist in the story of the death penalty was the Criminal Justice Bill of 31-7-98 which removed the death penalty for High Treason and Piracy with Violence. However, with the Somali situation being on people’s minds at the moment maybe there will be calls for the reintroduction of this ultimate deterrent.

For those of you who are keen to write historical fiction, and need to have accuracy of detail for the penalties for particular crimes, then do search the Internet and discover the wealth of information on the subject. I am still searching, but it would appear that the youngest person to be hanged in England, for the simple act of stealing it would appear, was a 7-year-old child. What will your research turn up?

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Thursday, 9 April 2009

Writing Inspired by Worms!

We recently had a crisis in our household. Well, I think we had a small problem but my wife assures me it is a crisis. In a moving round of some furniture we discovered a collection of little holes, and a pile of fine sawdust on one of the back support sections of our settee. It looked like woodworm we decided.


But what exactly is woodworm and what do you do about it? Well it was time to turn to the Internet and discover what the problem was. Wikipedia is always a good source of information on any subject so that is where I started. I very quickly established that there is more than one type of woodworm. Did we have Ambrosia beetles, or Common Furniture beetles, or Powder Post beetles or what?


Before I realized what was happening, I had forgotten the original problem and was merrily surfing the Net in order to improve my knowledge on all these little arthropods and their ability to consume my furniture. The level of detailed information was all quite fascinating and much more interesting that the plight of our settee.


Bookworms, I discovered, were actually not a specific breed of creature but a popular generalization for any insect which supposedly bores through books. These include silverfish and cockroaches. Our settee was actually in the room we very grandly call the library! As the name suggests this room is full of books. Now my interest was really taken up. I was not overly concerned about one settee, but if all our books are at risk of being on some bugs’ Michelin Food Guide to our library then I was all for some kind of remedial action.


The trouble is that these little blighters are only about one millimeter in length, and you only know you have them when they leave the holes they make and become bugs which fly away! Reading little phrases like “the adults do not feed; they just reproduce” didn’t fill me with confidence at all.


Anyway, it got me thinking about stories I could write which involved all this newly gleaned information I now had about woodworm. This writing could be fiction, science fiction or maybe a factual piece about the stresses of discovering these little holes. There was a slim chance I would be inspired to write poetry about my woes. I’ve already got a blog piece out of it all!

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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Cracking the Dreaded Writer's Block

If you've got round to reading my profile you will know I'm not only a counsellor but also a writer and writing tutor.

My students often complain about getting writer’s block. This can happen whatever you are doing. You might be writing the final chapter to your novel, or your University dissertation. You might be writing a short story or even writing a thank-you letter for that Christmas present that you really didn’t want. But you can’t write it! Your mind has gone completely blank and that great idea which came to you in the middle of the previous night has gone for good.

It happens to us all. There is no secret fix to get you around the problem. The best thing you can do is to walk away from your computer – perhaps go and stack the dishwasher or clean the car. Indeed, doing something mundane might actually help release your brain and allow it to think about your problem from a fresh point of view. Then, before you know where you are, you are rushing to your keyboard and you can’t get the ideas down quickly enough.

In an attempt to pre-empt writer’s block it is always a good idea to keep a tiny notepad and pencil beside you wherever you are. Then when ideas come to you, you can pause for a few seconds from what you are doing and can jot down a handful of key words which will remind you of your brilliant idea at a more convenient time.

This is how I wrote my first book, all about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and how it had affected me. Some of the chapters flowed very easily but others were much harder work. Every paragraph was chiselled out at a painstakingly slow pace and several times I almost dried up completely. However, the little notebook came to my aid on a number of occasions and it has been with me ever since.

Of course, those of you with a bit of technical ability will be able to make use of your mobile phone or Note Book or Blackberry to do the same thing. These gadgets are in a different world from me. I admire everyone who can use them, just as I admire anyone who can programme a DVD recorder to save their favourite programmes on TV – but I know my limitations!

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