Wednesday, December 31, 2014


As you may have guessed, I have been at a bit of a loss for something to contribute to the blog lately. My mind is a blank, my head in a whirl, so much has happened in the past year and I have been lurching from drama to angst and back. Did it show? I hope not. Some doors closed, but others opened. The blog has been both a respite and a distraction. So here are a few more examples of howlers caught by eagle-eyed grammar police – just think of them as stocking-fillers for grown-ups.

Completing the launching ceremony, the Admiral's lovely daughter smashed a bottle of champagne over her stern as she slid gracefully down the slipway.

The marriage suffered a setback in 1965 when the husband was killed by the wife.

If you asked six friends to name the commonest birds in Britain, the odds are that nine out of ten of them would say the sparrow.

Mr George Dobbs is very proud of the fact that he walked 50 kilometres on a sausage sandwich at the weekend.

Hammers:  Bulk purchase.  Would suit home handymen with claw heads

Sir:  The first time I heard the cuckoo was on April 12th.  Flying overhead from the garden, my husband heard it before that date.

You could have a portrait of yourself or your child taken at the convenience of your own home.

Amid the cheers of their many friends in the farming community, the bride and groom cut the wedding cake made by Mrs Robertson, shaped like a haystack on stilts.

A sub-committee is to consider the question of alterations at the village hall so that the toilets can be used for football matches.

Drama at the concert:  The violinist bravely extinguished the blaze while the conductor pulled the orchestra through a difficult passage.

Headline in local paper:  Peer's seat burns all night. Ancient pile destroyed.

A fixture that has brought nothing but defeat since 1949 was won at last by the shooting of two football league forwards.

She sat huddled in a chair covering her ears with crossed legs.

The colonel scurried up a tree while the dog attacked the bear and killed him with four well-placed bullets.

Three shots rang out. Two men fell dead, and the third went through his hat.

The importance of a comma:  A roading contractor who combines business with a passion for wildlife last evening, presented the NZ branch of the World Wildlife Fund with a cheque for $17,500.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


In a family teeming with colourful characters, one of my favourites was my uncle Buster. He was a Geordie who went to Japan and married my aunt. He was an enthusiastic social drinker, loved sports, parties and dancing. He once went to a fancy dress party dressed as a potato. If asked to say grace before dinner he would be likely to bellow: "Thank God! Food!"

Once in Kobe, after a boisterous party, he and my father stole a tram and drove it all round town before abandoning it. (I wish I’d known that while Dad was alive!) He raced motor cars. He was an excellent rugby player – he claimed to have taught the Japanese to play – and passable at other games, but he was a dud at tennis. One year he was one of two entrants in the lowest grade of a competition and Buster lost to the other guy – who had a wooden leg.

In New Zealand in retirement, Buster would dress up in a black outfit with long black gloves and straw plaits, and my aunt would darken his eyebrows and redden his cheeks and lips. Then Buster would play "Mary Christmas" for the neighbourhood children. One child, confused by the disguise, told her mother later that she had held hands with a horse.

Towards the end of his life Buster became frail but he never lost his sense of humour. He was cheeky, and once went to a liquor store, sat down on a crate of empties and crooked his finger at one of the women in the shop. He handed her his list, and she scurried round getting everything he wanted. Later, Buster was in hospital in intensive care. Friends visiting him for, as they thought, the last time, watched him heave at an oxygen mask with his eyes rolling. He lifted the mask and muttered, "Great gin!" Appalled glances were exchanged. There was another deep breath, then a huge smile: "Oxy-gin!" He came home black and blue because of several falls owing to his tottery condition and told a strait-laced neighbour that he had been booted out because he had tried to rape the matron.         

Buster had unusual solutions to small domestic problems, most of them involving a stapler, drawing pins or sellotape. If he lost a button off his shirt sleeve he stapled the cuff together. The indicator lever in his car broke off and was replaced with a pink toothbrush handle. Wallpaper peeling off the wall was fixed with drawing pins. Or sellotape: anything you can imagine could be mended with it, and a whole lot of things you would never imagine were wrapped or stuck together with sellotape, like the lock on the door between their unit and the garage.

Thanks for the memories, Bus!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Contrary to popular opinion, there are good reasons for being picky about grammar, punctuation and the tiresome business of editing one’s writing. We who do this kind of work are often referred to – not always in fun – as nit-pickers or worse, grammar nazis. On the other hand, we who do this work – which most of us enjoy otherwise we wouldn’t do it – can rescue those of you who don’t or can’t do it yourselves from becoming laughing stocks.

On the third hand, those of you who not only don’t do it yourselves but can’t see any reason for it to be done at all should read the following examples, taken from actual published sources, although a few have been slightly changed or tidied up. In some cases it might be necessary to think about them, or re-read them, because that’s what editors do – they read carefully and look out for howlers amongst other sins and omissions. Here we go:

Her eyes lit up, fluttered, met his, dropped to the floor, went back to the jewels. He picked them up, held them for a moment, then handed them back to her with a tender smile.

My husband took an accident policy with your company and in less than a month he was accidentally drowned. I consider it a good investment.

The government were strongly urged to take steps to put a stop to the growing evil of methylated spirits drinking by the Liverpool Justices at their quarterly meeting.

The font so generously presented by Mrs Smith will be set in position at the east end of the church.  Babies may now be baptised at both ends.

He had been aware from the first that she was unusually attractive. Now, in her dark green dress with the low-cut, rounded neckline, he saw that she had lovely legs.

"Good" muttered Pierre to himself, hiding a smile beneath the false black beard which he always carried in his suitcase in case of emergency.

Across a broad stubborn nose he carried a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles, a neat grey lounge suit and a blue shirt with collar to match.

Like Susan, he had dark brown hair with enormous black eyebrows, a moustache and a short beard.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Dilettante, n:  lover of the fine arts; amateur; one who toys with the subject, or studies it without seriousness. Dilettantish, adj:  trifling, not thorough.

Hmm, that sounds like me – a dabbler.  But so what?  I believe that everyone should try things, even if they stuff up.  How else can we find out what we might be good at, or what’s fun to do?  Even babies know that – we could learn a lesson or two from them.  At least when we get past the baby stage we stop sampling slugs to find out what they taste like. If we don’t know whether we would enjoy doing something, we are less likely to be intimidated by the challenge. 

There was the matter of the violin lessons when I was about nine. The teacher was very kind, but I was never able to produce any of those piercingly beautiful violinish sounds and soon lost heart. My mother was made of stronger stuff. She wrote in her diary that “Joanie is making gawdawful noises but I’m sure she’ll do better soon.”  As it happened, no chance. Twenty years later however, during the folk song years with Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and everyone else strumming and singing about peace and flowers, I learned how to play a guitar – sort of – by buying one, acquiring a couple of how-to books, learning some basic chords, and setting off at a cheerful canter.  It’s only one of the benefits of not knowing what you don’t know but wanting to find out.

Soon a banjo in a music shop caught my eye – twelve strings and a satisfyingly chunky, out-in-the-boondocks sound. But the steel strings hurt my finger pads, so it wasn’t long before it was bye bye banjo and hello to an old piano and Bach’s notebook of easy pieces for Anna Magdalena. Luckily nobody told me that Anna Magdalena was deceptively difficult, and anyway there didn’t seem to be too many notes bunched up together (all you real musicians out there are wincing already).  I just wanted the notes to sound more or less in the right order, with both hands co-operating. When I had knocked off Bach there was Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff to look forward to, and who knows what else – next stop La Scala? There is no limit to the expectations of an inveterate dabbler.

That didn’t happen either. But the thing about dabbling is that sooner or later something gels. With me it was painting and writing.  It could have been worse; I could now be playing the violin very badly.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


The arrival of more and more cruise ships to New Zealand ports as we approach our summer reminds me that there’s a difference between travelling by sea and going for a cruise on a ship. I have never been on a cruise but know of plenty of people who have. The idea is not at all tempting. To me a cruise ship seems like something between Las Vegas, Disneyland and a Butlin’s holiday camp – twinkle, glitter and ra-ra-ra.

Most of my long-distance travelling has been by sea.  In ships.  Big, old-fashioned hotels that float.  I’ve been from Nagasaki to Dairen.  Kobe to Sydney via Shanghai. Sydney to Durban via Adelaide and Perth.  Durban to Port Said.  Glasgow to Rangoon. Rangoon to Colombo and on to London via Suez. London to Auckland via the Panama canal. Auckland to London via Miami and Bermuda, and back.  There was leisure, style and grace, even the bargain-basement travel.

Those sea voyages took a long time – weeks rather than hours or days – but they were memorable. Apart from the voyages to and from Dairen, I remember them all. Not just the times on the ships but the bits in-between – which is more than one can say of any flight in an aeroplane.

Sydney to Durban in a convoy of ships for example. That meant Christmas at sea; a Japanese submarine torpedoed by one of the destroyers protecting our convoy; loading wheat and coal at Perth so that we were all covered in black and white dust. A few months later we climbed aboard the Reina del Pacifico to sail for Suez in another convoy. My brother, aged six, spent most of his time with the sailors swinging in the rigging and my mother spent hers on the bridge on lookout because she could see forever.

I celebrated a birthday during a ten-day stopover in Colombo.  The ship had engine trouble – no calling up another ship in emergencies in those days. That was where my escort – the fourth officer of the ship – had gone to fetch cold drinks at Mount Lavinia and I was offered a lewd invitation while I waited under a tree. You don’t get that just anywhere.

It has to be said however that some people found travelling by sea tedious. On the way to New Zealand AJ, who had finished reading War and Peace, got so bored by the time we reached Panama that he threatened to jump off the ship into the canal and swim the rest of the way.

Those were the days. Since then, for me, it has been aeroplanes – hedge-hopping around the country or across The Ditch.  However, it was Robert Louis Stevenson who reflected that, old and young, we are all on our last cruise.