Friday, April 29, 2011

The Wedding, twitted

The problem with Twitter, especially on a big news day, is that sometimes you come up with a good gag or bon mot and it gets lost in the morass of other people's twitterings. So, for posterity or those who don't follow my Twitter, @patrick_kidd, here are the pick of my thoughts on the Royal Wedding in 140 characters.

* Less than two hours to go to the unveiling of the dress. My money is on it being white. Possibly with silly frilly bits.

* Very sensible to make Wills Duke of Cambridge. Oxford is a right dump, only fit for Earls

* Huw Edwards interviewing Rowan Williams. All we need is Neil Kinnock and Charlotte Church and there will be a quorum for an Eisteddfod
* John Major surprisingly wearing a pink shirt with his morning dress. Maybe a red sock got mixed in with the wash?

* Lots of people worried about time people have to wait in the Abbey without a toilet break, can't they just do what Jez did in Peep Show?

* "We want wills" the crowd outside Clarence House shout. Probably worried about dying intestate

* I see the police outriders have chosen to wear yellow. Clashes with the Queen's outfit a bit. They should have co-ordinated

* So how long do we give the Daily Mail before they replace the "God bless 'er" stories with "Is Kate anorexic?" columns?

* And they've arrived at the Abbey. Doors to manual and cross-check... Thank you for flying easyRoyal, first-class for the return journey

* Kate enters to "I was Glad" by Hubert Parry. Not, sadly, "I'm so Glad" by Cream. Less waa-waa guitar, more organ

* I *love* Walton's "Crown Imperial", which the couple are walking out to. Almost as good as the Imperial March from Star Wars

* In Britain you need a royal wedding to become a duke or count. In the US, you just have to be a great jazz musician

* CLASSY idea to have William drive Kate away from the Palace in a vintage Aston Martin. Very cool. Wonder if it comes with stinger missiles?

* Radio 4 reporter just said that Prince William will be letting his hair down later. To judge from the hereditary baldness it's too late
* So that's it for Wills and Kate. Everyone back together next year for Harry's wedding in Vegas?

* Still enormous crowds milling around outside Buckingham Palace. At what point is it polite to set the corgis on them?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bureaucratese and gobbledygook

A treat for those who hate PR-speak. The excellent Letters of Note blog reprints a fabulous memo from the former chairman of the US Civil Aeronautics Board, Alfred Kahn, in which he instructs his staff to avoid "the artificial and hyper-legal language that is sometimes known as bureaucratese or gobbledygook".

A few extracts follow but go and read the whole thing on Letters of Note. Apparently when Kahn's memo was published it attracted an offer of marriage and the suggestion that he should be given a Nobel prize. This should be compulsory reading...

"May I ask you, please, to try very hard to write Board orders and, even more so, drafts of letters for my signature, in straightforward, quasi-conversational, humane prose - as though you are communicating with real people. I once asked a young lawyer who wanted us to say "we deem it inappropriate" to try that kind of language out on his children - and if they did not drive him out of the room with their derisive laughter, to disown them.

"I suggest the test is a good one: try reading some of the language you use aloud, and ask yourself how your friends would be likely to react. (And then decide, on the basis of their reactions, whether you still want them as friends.)"
He then goes through his pet peeves, which include...
Every time you are tempted to use "herein," "hereinabove," "hereinunder," or similarly, "therein" and its corresponding variants, try "here" or "there" or "above" or "below" and see if it doesn't make just as much sense.

The passive voice is wildly overused in government writing. Typically, its purpose is to conceal information: one is less likely to be jailed if one says "he was hit by a stone," than "I hit him with a stone." The active voice is far more forthright, direct, and human.

This one is, I recognize, a matter of taste. But unless you feel strongly, would you please try to remember that "data" was for more than two thousand years and is still regarded by most literate people as plural (the singular is "datum"), and that (this one goes back even longer) the singular is "criterion," and "criteria" is plural. Also, that for at least from the 17th through most of the 20th century, "presently" meant "soon" or "immediately" and not "now."
Could you possibly try to make the introduction of letters somewhat less pompous than "this is in reference to your letter dated May 42, 1993, regarding (or concerning, or in regard to, or with reference to)...." That just doesn't sound as though it is coming from a human being.
Why use "regarding" or "concerning" or "with regard to," when the simple word "about" would do just as well? Unless you are trying to impress someone; but are you sure you want to impress anyone who would be impressed by such circumlocutions? There is a similar pompous tendency to use "prior to," when what you really mean is "before."

One of my pet peeves is the rampant misuse of "hopefully." That word is an adverb, and makes sense only as it modifies a verb, and means "with hope." It is possible to walk hopefully into a room, if one is going into the room with the hope of finding something (or not finding something) there. It is not intelligent to say "hopefully the criminal will make his identity known," because the meaning is not that he will do so with hope in his heart, and he is the subject of the verb "make."
Those who want more of the same should read Simon Heffer's Style Notes at the Telegraph

The post-Lent diet

Gosh I haven't blogged in weeks. Sorry about that. Tempus fugit and all that.

Well Easter is over, the tombstone has been rolled back and they've discovered that Christ has done a bunk, which means that I have reached the end of my Lenten fast. Or rather a half-hearted attempt to lose weight that became more half-hearted as the 40 days passed.

The good news is that I lost half a stone. The bad news is that I was aiming for a whole stone. On the plus side, I didn't buy any cheese for the period of Lent, tried to avoid it at work and ate relatively little chocolate. On the minus side, I had two black-tie dinners and a couple of social occasions where I didn't really hold myself back.

I loathe myself for my weakness, but then I did manage to lose one pound a week through only minor changes to my lifestyle. Perhaps that should be a lesson for the rest of the year: small improvements bring gradual rewards. If I carry on losing one pound a week, I can lose more than two stones by Christmas. Perhaps it might be time to do a bit more exercise...

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Please release me

As someone who once wrote copy to promote the Tory Party at the 2001 election (that worked out well), I sympathise with people who work in PR.

No matter how duff the idea, it will be someone's job to try and interest journalists in writing about it. Some are really quite silly, though, such as this press release I received from a vacuum cleaner company:
"Jogging on a hard surface in flat shoes, with no impact absorption, is neither pleasant nor smooth, making the run uncomfortable and clumsy. This insight is what gave the AEG development team an idea for its new and improved UltraOne vacuum cleaner. To create a vacuum that moves smoothly and produces little-to-no sound, its previous small, hard wheels were replaced with larger sports shoe-like wheels that absorb impact."
Thanks for the insight. How much jogging in flat shoes did you have to do to realise that it was hurting? Anyway, many congratulations, you've invented the tyre.

The art of being a good PR is to find a tenuous angle on which to peg your product. Hence this next email that arrived from Santa Cruz, California:

And what is also happening on that day that merits so many capital letters? Well, let the first line of the press release guide you:
"Was Prince William a frog in a past life?"
Clever, clever. The royal wedding is the perfect peg for a piece on saving frogs, who as we all know are just princes waiting to be kissed. Well done Santa Cruz, although given the royal family's background surely Prince Williams is more likely to have been a kraut in a former life?

Still, they got me to write about their campaigns so maybe these PRs do know a thing or two about grabbing the attention.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Occupational hazards

It's the Vole's ambition always to be a week late in discussing the news, so: the Census. How was it for you?

I refused to answer some of the questions this year. I don't think it is any business of the State to ask me what my state of health is at the moment (how do they know someone isn't just being a hypochondirac or a stoic?) and I fail to see the relevance of the question asking to describe what you do in your job, so I left them blank.

One of my colleagues decided it was best to be honest and put the answer: "Wasting time surfing the internet and bitching about my workmates."

Another, a sub-editor, suggested: "Making people better paid than me look as if they can write."

A letter appeared in The Times on Thursday from someone who had been a Census enumerator in 1981 that revealed a wonderfully eccentric and existential answer. Someone had given their occupation as "sculptor of stone lions" and then, when asked to describe his work, wrote: "I chip away all the bits of stone that are not lion."