June 25, 2020 § Leave a comment
A client gave me an ebook to proofread the other day. In one sense there was NOTHING wrong with it. In another, there was SO MUCH wrong with it.
I could see straight away that it had gone through a spellcheck. There were tons of mistakes but each one, in itself, wasn’t a mistake.
For example, there were THREE Chapter Twos. ‘Chapter Two’ was spelt right every time so the spellcheck had done its job. The spellcheck doesn’t care that you’ve made a massive error, repeating the same chapter title three times. It cares that you’ve spelt Chapter Two properly. The spellcheck isn’t worried that your mistake has made you look amateurish and impacted on the index, knocking all pages out of order.
Customers will make up their own mind about you when they see the quality of your copy – even if writing has nothing to do with your business.
There was a variety of its and it’s, sprinkled throughout the text, randomly used wrongly – but, as far as the spellcheck was concerned, the words were spelt right every time.
Then there were the theres, theirs and they’res and the you’res and yours.
Most plurals were denoted by apostrophes – as in ‘client’s’ when it should have been ‘clients’. An apostrophe never, ever, ever – no exceptions – pluralises a word.
All language was Americanized even though this was a London-based company wanting to appeal to London-based customers. That’s also down to the spellcheck because many people use it without setting it to the right language.
I could go on but let’s just say punctuation and grammar left everything to be desired. There were few spelling errors but words were used in the wrong contest (I know that last word should be ‘context’ but I’m giving you an idea of where the spellcheck says ‘OK’ because it is OK as far as spelling is concerned.)
When I talked to the client about the extent of the damage, he said that it was probably a result of staring at the copy for so long to make sure the message was right.
I get that. The last person you should rely on to check and knock your copy into shape is YOU.
April 24, 2020 § Leave a comment
April 7, 2020 § Leave a comment
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.
April 6, 2020 § Leave a comment
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.
March 23, 2020 § Leave a comment
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.
February 13, 2020 § Leave a comment
A woman slammed the phone down on my friend yesterday – or did she. They were talking – on mobile phones – 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 – unless she was also intent on wrecking her mobile.
So that’s one phrase in the English language whose days are numbered. There are others:
- 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. Carbon paper isn’t necessary now that we all use computers. 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.
- 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.
- 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, named after popular photographic film, was a special picture moment. These days billions of pictures are taken every minute on Smart Phones, special or not. We just snap away.
- 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’.
- Put somebody through the wringer – to give them a hard time. Several generations back wringers were used to squeeze every last drop of water from just-washed clothes. Now machines do the hard work but we’ve carried on using the expression to suggest someone’s been drained of everything they’ve got! eg. the lawyer really put him through the wringer.
- Snapping a photograph. I just used the ‘snap a picture’ expression in Point 3 – where did we get that from? Simple – old cameras used to make a snapping sound when they took the shot.
- And, is a newspaper still a newspaper when it’s published online – no paper involved!
There must be many more phrases that 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.
November 12, 2019 § Leave a comment
Shopping for shoes is serious shopping, as any woman will tell you.
Take that a step higher – shopping for winter boots – and you’re no longer talking about a buying activity but an investment. You’ve got proper important stuff on your hands. Well, feet.
I undertook said winter boots search in my home town of Windsor, Berkshire, the other day and was astounded by the huge variation in customer service which varied from the sublime to the insulting. Let me explain.
First of all, you need to know that I set out with the idea of buying (investing in) long, black boots which had to be leather. Get the right pair and you’ve got friends for life (or, realistically, about three years, until you’re fed up of them).
I started at a little independent store which specialises in leather goods. This didn’t go well. I walked into the shop first, my husband following and the guy behind the till completely ignored me and said “Good morning, sir.” He wasn’t to know I was the primary customer and still doesn’t because I walked straight back out again.
Next was an upmarket womenswear chain which is my ‘go-to’ store for special pieces. I’m not sure that the young woman had worked there long – or in fact had worked anywhere in the retail industry, long. I asked for a size 6, which she found on the shelves. They were too big. She found a size 4 (on the shelves) which I knew would be too small. She found a size 7 (on the shelves) which brought us back to the original problem. I actually voiced the issue to help direct her “We have a size 4, 6 and 7 but they aren’t working for me. What next?” She stood there waiting, as if I was going to provide the answer too. I left.
A concession in the local department store didn’t have the size I needed in a pair of boots I liked. The sales assistant offered to order in the right size. The problem was I’d have to pay upfront and, if they didn’t feel or look right I’d have to go through the faff of getting a refund. That didn’t seem fair and I moved on.
I won’t drag you through the rest of the tiring, very tiring but ultimately worth it, shopping trip except to pay tribute to the outstanding customer service we found in Whistles. It was so good, friendly and unpushy that I’ve already told friends about the exceptional treatment and regret that the boots that I eventually bought weren’t from that store. The young sales assistants were chatty and efficient, offered tea or coffee while we had a think about the boots I was trying on, gave opinions when they were asked but didn’t hover or pressure sell. Thank you, Whistles – you didn’t have the right boots but I’ll be back.
(Oh, I finally found the boots at the department store I’ve already mentioned, at a different concession within it. And they’re black, leather – but not full-length.)
July 29, 2019 § Leave a comment
I used to drink alcohol but I can’t anymore. I don’t know why that suddenly happened, but it did. I’m ok with it – other people aren’t.
If I drink alcohol I get the mother of all hangovers. Not a bad head or a dodgy stomach the next morning but, for three days at least, a searing, horrible, sickening pain in my head and a tummy that repeatedly wants to get rid of anything I put in it, including the water which I think might help the head pain. Alcohol just isn’t worth that torture.
When I’m with a group in a pub or at a party I dread people asking what I want to drink. I have two strategies:
- To ask for a glass of wine and make it last all night. People seem more comfortable if I’m holding a glass of wine when the next round comes and I say “I’m alright for the minute”.
- If I’m actually thirsty, to feel ‘brave’ enough to ask for a soft drink and chance that people won’t judge me for not drinking alcohol.
I don’t drive (which I know is also odd to the majority but is somehow more acceptable) so I can’t use that as an ‘excuse’.
The reaction to my not drinking alcohol falls into two camps:
- That I’m not enjoying myself (which I am).
- That I’m trying to lose weight (which I’m not).
And I can’t even hazard a guess at the number of times people have asked ‘Don’t you want a real drink?’
The other day my husband and I went out for a drink and the pub was selling a rhubarb and ginger tonic. I was excited. Not only was the drink tasty it sounded ‘grown up’ – particularly when my options usually fall into the lemonade division. I could feel good about ordering rhubarb and ginger tonic.
Just now, when I started writing this blog I couldn’t remember the name of the brand so I put ‘rhubarb and ginger tonic’ into the search engine. Pages and pages of rhubarb and ginger gin came up – even though I’d specified ‘tonic’.
And when I finally found the drink, rhubarb and ginger tonic from Twelve Below was only a mention on a site titled Craft Gins. I’ve dug a bit deeper and found the Twelve Below site. It’s using the USP of having less sugar than most tonics, hence its name, (12 calories per serving with natural sweeteners) – and not that it’s a cool adult drink. I think it’s missing out there. But it must know its main audience and has branded itself accordingly.
Anyway, my point is this: I don’t want to drink alcohol because it doesn’t do me any favours. I’m not going to judge those that drink. Sometimes I’d like to join in because it would make my life easier – but please don’t judge me if I don’t.
July 24, 2019 § Leave a comment
No you can’t help me!
When I walk into a shop laid out for browsing I don’t want a sales assistant to rush up to me and gush ‘Can I help you?’. Frankly, If I wanted help, I would ask for it.
Why have a shop layout which encourages customers to have a good look around if sales assistants are going to hound them from the time they walk through the door.
Maybe I sound like a grumpy old woman. I’m not. (Grumpy). But I’m definitely old enough to ask for information/advice when I need it – however I probably won’t know what help I need until I’ve had a look around the shop and realised I can’t find what I’m looking for. Or maybe I’ll want “that one in a different colour/size” when I see one in the wrong colour/size. It’s one of retail’s biggest mistakes in my opinion – to get people into their lair and then turn them off by hassling them like it was a bazaar.
There used to be more counters, definite ‘don’t walk beyond this spot’ barriers, where customers expected attention from sales assistants and wanted, actually needed, their help because they couldn’t get what they wanted it without it. In fact, waiting too long before being served was annoying. In that arrangement ‘Can I help?’ was exactly what you wanted to hear.
Then there’s the complete opposite of all this – the shop where it’s hard to find a sales assistant in the first place and when you do, they don’t want to help.
I was shopping for a bra the other day – one to fit with a new dress because none of the bras I owned did the job. I went to my favourite lingerie department, looked through the rails, couldn’t find what I was looking for and went in search of a sales assistant. I imagined a salesperson would know the stock and be able to help since I was looking for something pretty specific.
When I finally found a sales assistant, which wasn’t easy, she was restocking a fixture. I felt like I was interrupting as opposed to wanting to give the store business! Her response was to trot over to where I had already looked and tell me that the bra I had described used to be there but evidently wasn’t anymore. And that was it. She went back to stocking the fixture, giving no advice as to how I might find the bra or paying me any further attention.
(In case you’re worrying, I found the bra eventually – from the same retailer but online. For the men who are reading this, bras are like shoes – better tried on, even if you know your size, so online isn’t ideal.)
I don’t want to get into the ‘every customer is different’ and ‘every shop is different’ debate. There is a one-size-fits-all solution and it should be used. The clue lies in the job title, sales assistant. ‘Sales’ – that bit’s easy: on behalf of the business, sales assistants will handle transactions. Assistant – their job is to help – when the customer needs help but not to mob or avoid helping by stocking shelves. Problem sorted.