April 24, 2020 § Leave a comment

A personal touch in no-touch times!

April 7, 2020 § Leave a comment

Talk and write – you’ve got plenty of time

In difficult coronavirus times the personal ‘touch’ is more important then ever, although ‘touch’ is almost certainly not the right word. ‘Thought’ is probably better.

Technology is doing a fantastic job of keeping us in contact with family and friends – although not all of us. My elderly uncle is 85 (plonk in the at-risk group) and doesn’t own a computer, smartphone or tablet. He hasn’t a clue what wifi means. My aunt, his late wife, died five years ago and he hasn’t got used to living on his own, let alone given any thought to exploring technological opportunities.

Auntie Elsie was the glue in their marriage and used to invite us all round for the most fantastic roast or high-tea a couple of times a month. Uncle Ben slipped into the shadows after she died and we had to remember to call him – he never thought of phoning us.

The other day my brother and I were talking about buying him a tablet and getting wifi installed so that we could at least FaceTime him. But then we realised he’d need to be shown how it all works – there’s a lot to go through when you’re an absolute beginner – and we can’t visit and explain.

So – we’re continuing with phone calls and he’s happy with that. He likes to hear a friendly voice and, as it happens, we’re making more effort than we used to and are calling more often anyway.

But the whole Uncle Ben issue made me think about how we communicate these days.

Friends can whizz you a message by text, email, Facebook, Instagram and so on…in minutes. They don’t need to send birthday cards, postcards – or even Christmas cards to some extent- because a note on Facebook will do it for them.

I have no choice but to send Uncle Ben a proper birthday card because of the lack of wifi and it’s fun choosing a card that in some way touches on his life or personality.

Then there are letters. It used to be exciting to get a letter – sometimes challenging depending on the handwriting – but exciting all the same. The only letters I receive these days are from companies trying to sell me something and they’re typed, so in every way don’t count. Generally our first thought these days when we want to send a letter is to email it.

For as long as the post manages to keep going in these unsettled, unreal days I’ve decided to revert to letters and phone calls. (Ok – and blog! And Tweet sometimes…and text occasionally – but I am going to build letter-writing back into my life.)

Although I’ve grown up surrounded by electronic communication, I totally believe that the personal thought has to have a positive impact on these negative times.

If not now – when?

April 6, 2020 § Leave a comment

There’s never been a better time to do what you’ve always wanted to do

We’re in a horribly horrible situation. Coronavirus is hurting each and every one of us. By now we all have stories, either of lost loved ones or of loved ones lost – those living on their own and battling the pandemic alone.

So what to do? The answer has to be: not nothing!

When this chapter in history finally closes, let’s not have people saying ‘If only I’d used the time to…[whatever it is they suddenly realise they have always have wanted – to do]’

Now is the time to start thinking about all the things you’ve always wanted but never had the time to do, as well as the things that you know need to be done.

Suddenly we have too much time and we should make the most of it. You’ll never get that time back. Life hasn’t been given a pause button that you can neatly rewind to catch up on the stuff you haven’t been able to do.

The danger, for many people, is that the less you do the less you’ll want to do – which reminds me of the Benjamin Franklin quote: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

It’s too easy, when you have no deadlines or structure, to fill up on daytime TV – and that’s if you’re out of bed in time for daytime TV because lie-ins have apparently also become hugely tempting.

Social media has been flooded with cartoons and quotes about people wearing pyjamas all day and possibly, just possibly, if they find the motivation, migrating from daytime to evening pyjamas.

On behalf of freelancers and home-workers everywhere, I’d just like to say: that’s not how we work!

The blog I recently wrote about writing the book you’ve always wanted to write talks about using your day to give it a go. But writing a book may not be your thing.

Perhaps you’ve always fancied learning magic tricks, or baking, or picking up the crochet project you thought you’d never finish or writing music. Writing a screenplay might interest you – or there may be some DIY jobs that you know need doing.

If you’re ever going to do any of these things, now has to be an ideal time to do them. And if not now – when?

Ok, the time’s not right if you want to improve your swimming. Or learn to drive or move house. Shelve those dreams for the time being.

Instead concentrate on what you can do and not what you can’t do.

Now’s the time to write your book

March 30, 2020 § Leave a comment

There’s never been a better time to publish

Are you one of those individuals who’s always been meaning to write a book but never had the time?

Suddenly you have loads of time – and plenty of potential readers who also have loads of time.

Never in history has there been a more ideal moment to get going on the literary venture you’ve been thinking about for ages. And never before has it been so easy to publish.

Starting at the very beginning:

  1. ‘Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay’ Nobody’s actually sure who said that. However it’s a worthwhile saying and you need to put your words to that test when you get them down on paper.
  2. If you believe they pass, give your manuscript to a trusted friend to read, a friend who isn’t going to say what you want to hear but what you need to hear. If they feel your book is a good read, it’s time to progress to the next step.
  3. Get a professional to proofread and copyedit it. I’m not going to say much about that because it’s what I do and this blog is not a sales pitch. You need a professional because they’re good with words and can also spot what you’ve actually written not what you think you’ve written. Don’t rely on a spellcheck: there, they’re and their can all get past a spellcheck even though they have different meanings.
  4. Now you’re at the publishing stage. It’s never been easier to get published and gone are the days when you had to wait for an agent or publishing company to consider your manuscript. You can upload it instantly. In theory.

There are plenty of publishing companies to choose from: Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo. Lulu, Smashwords, BookBaby, Blurb, Google Play Books – I could go on. But here, I would suggest, is your first real problem if, like me, you’re a writer but not a technical wizard.

Which of those are you going to choose?

I know KDP is a market leader but when I just looked at the website it’s told me I have to format my manuscript and create a cover. So if your strength is in writing, not formatting and design, will you be ok?

An author’s review of Lulu doesn’t give me much confidence either – I write my book, design the cover and upload everything. It doesn’t cost me money, but time and experience. If there are typos in it, then I wrote them and I didn’t notice them. Yes – but your readers will notice your typos.

I honestly don’t get what this Smashwords review is talking about – Smashwords (sic) web-based interface is specifically intended for the upload of files, metadata and book project management. What does that even mean?

If I were you I’d concentrate on writing your book and get someone else to do the techie stuff.

For one thing, I’ve been told that the cover is everything in the crowded world of ebooks, so I’d definitely want someone to do that. For another thing, I don’t talk ebook publishing language or feel confident formatting and uploading files. So I’d ask someone who understands to do it properly.

Bad formatting is like losing all the structure of a regular letter. So instead of seeing ‘Dear Whoever’ on one line and all the rest appearing in paragraphs starting on different lines, it will all run on into one fat chunk of text. I’m not going to risk that sort of mistake happening.

I don’t want to have spent ages and ages writing a book that I really believe in, only to trash it with a cock-handed effort at self-publishing. That is definitely a skill in its own right.

The ebookdesigner (John Amy) is one of many companies who will take the techie stuff off your hands AND design you a great cover, specific to your book. He recommends sticking with Amazon, the market leader and biggest distributor for your self-published ebook. John says that good design can make you more money simply because you come across as a professional. If money isn’t the main aim of your game, but the message is, you still need to get reader attention and the cover is integral to that.

He thinks it’s a good idea to also release a print version – something he can help you with. That makes it more accessible to ‘real book’ lovers and, again, makes you appear a more professional author. It’s also an opportunity to sell more, of course.

For the time being, just get some words down on paper/screen and see where they take you. It’s an interesting break from the TV and a welcome rest from cleaning stuff that doesn’t need cleaning or decorating walls that don’t need decorating.

Set aside an hour or two daily to write, it will add some structure to your day. And if it doesn’t come easily at the beginning, think of the Jodi Picoult quote –

You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Ditch trolleys. Baskets only from now on

March 23, 2020 § Leave a comment

Baskets only from now on
Supermarkets: Get rid of trolleys and make people use baskets

To properly limit food sales supermarkets need to get rid of trolleys so that customers can only shop with baskets.

Less food would fly off the shelves and certainly slower than at the current hysterical rate.

Supermarkets could easily have worked this out for themselves – so what am I missing?

The panic buying that’s going on is selfish and horrible. People are finding ways round the ‘limits’ that supermarkets are imposing on customers to make sure that their family is alright. They would prefer to take every member of the family, each of them to fill a trolley to the max, so that they have food, even though they know that it will deny NHS workers and the vulnerable basic and essential goods.

Therefore a ‘limit’ of 2 packs of toilet rolls becomes 8 or 10 packs of rolls per customer in reality when all the family have filled their trolleys.

I’m naive. I didn’t even realise that people were doing this until a sales assistant in Waitrose told me about it as I was looking at empty shelves. So the supermarket is well aware of what’s happening. I don’t want to single out Waitrose because I’m sure the the same is true of Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and the rest.

I picked up another story (online so I know I’m not giving anything away) about people filling their trolley, leaving the supermarket to pack it all into the car and then going back in for more. Sales assistants wouldn’t actually remember the customer’s face – who anyway would probably choose another assistant to serve them or alternatively select self-checkout. And what could happen anyway if the sales assistant DID notice that the customer had returned?

Of course, customers will find a way round an attempt to limit food sales by shopping with baskets. But baskets will be much more inconvenient for them than loading up trolleys full of food and loo rolls.

This panic buying is getting ridiculous!!

March 10, 2020 § 1 Comment

I am seriously shocked by the panic buying that’s going on and even more by the choice of goods that are being panic bought.

Come on, Pot Noodles! Have the people stockpiling Pot Noodles ever eaten them before? You’d think not…

This is 100 per cent a true story: I walked into Windsor (my nearest town) a few days ago intending to buy, among other stuff, some handwipes. I always like to have a packet since I travel to the East End weekly and often use a handwipe or two to freshen up because the journey takes a while.

Not only were there no handwipes, but handgels were nowhere to be found – and even the handwash shelves were looking bare!

At the time I really didn’t know that this handgel panic buying thing was such a big deal.

And now, we genuinely need toilet roll at home. I wouldn’t usually go into such detail and the only reason I do is to tell you that I couldn’t find any anywhere on today’s trip into Windsor.

If I’d thought about it I should have stocked up on great quantities of toilet paper – to avoid being beaten to it all by those people who are now stockpiling it for…

…I’m not sure. What are they stockpiling it for?

My husband decided he’d get round the problem by organising an online shop. Then he found there was only one delivery slot for the rest of the week and, guess what, no toilet rolls! However as he preceded with the order, toilet rolls (never heard of the brand but who cares) became available. So I think we’ll be alright.

However he couldn’t get any flour or lentils. The available pasta range was limited and nappies (I checked for my daughter so that my granddaughter doesn’t need to be urgently potty-trained) were running out.

I’ve deduced there are two camps of people. Camp A is buying up dried goods, toilet rolls and probably avoiding crowds of people at all costs. Camp B is carrying on life as usual.

I’m clearly a member of Camp B. This blog may come back to haunt me but I can’t spend every day worrying about coronavirus which (at time of writing) has been responsible for the deaths of five people in the UK. That’s incredibly sad for the late patients and their families and I’m in no way underrating that.

However our seasonal flu kills people every year and we don’t panic buy toilet rolls or avoid public places in case we catch the flu from someone – or someone who’s been close to someone with the flu. On average 600 people a year die from flu in the UK and the number has risen to 10,000 in some years.

A scientist will tell me that flu is quite different from coronavirus – we have a vaccine for it for one thing.

But if people stopped panic buying, retailers would have more of a chance to replenish stock of everything for everyone.

That’s it. Rant over.

She slammed the phone down or did she?

February 13, 2020 § Leave a comment

A woman slammed the phone down on my friend yesterday – or did she. They were talking, she got angry and she abruptly and angrily ended the call. But did she actually, literally, physically, slam down the phone on him? Probably not.

I mentioned this and he realised I wasn’t concentrating on his story but wondering about the turn of phrase.

“You know what I mean!” he said.

Yes, I know what he meant, but technically, I pointed out, if she was speaking on a mobile phone she didn’t need to slam it down and actually, slamming it down wouldn’t have achieved the outcome she wanted.

So that’s one phrase in the English language whose days are numbered. There are others:

  1. Carbon copy. When I was a young journalist using a manual typewriter I used carbon paper to make a copy of the story I was writing. That isn’t necessary now that we all use computers. From there we coined the expression ‘she’s a carbon copy of her mother’ meaning she’s very similar in appearance to her mother. However…we’re using ‘carbon copy’ often without knowing it. When we cc somebody on an email, we all know that we’re copying them in. We don’t all know (I didn’t) that cc stands for carbon copy.
  2. Winding down the window (of a car). We don’t do that anymore. In place of the winder-type apparatus that was fitted in old cars, we use a button and the window shoots down.
  3. Kodak moment. In the days of camera film, we were careful about capturing the moment we wanted to cherish on film – frankly because we had to pay for it to be developed and in the first place make the effort to go to the developer. So a Kodak moment was a special picture moment. These days billions of pictures are taken every minute on Smart Phones, special or not. We just snap away.
  4. Nothing to write home about – meaning it’s not big news. Back in the day, before mobile phones, people actually wrote letters to family when they had news – even sent postcards when they were on holiday! But if they didn’t have news or weren’t on holiday they had ‘nothing to write home about’.
  5. Put somebody through the wringer – give them a hard time. Several generations back wringers were used to squeeze every last drop of water from just-washed clothes. We’ve used the expression since to suggest someone’s been drained of everything they’ve got! eg. the lawyer really put him through the wringer.
  6. Snapping a photograph. I just used the expression in Number 3 – where did we get that from? Old cameras used to make a snapping sound when they took the shot.
  7. And, is a newspaper still a newspaper when it’s published online – no paper involved!

There must be many more phrases that, even if they’ve stood the test of time, don’t really make sense any more. Any thoughts? Answers on a postcard please – well, not literally. We don’t need to send postcards when we can whizz over a suggestion via the comments box.