Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Non-fiction Week! John Peel, margrave of the marshes

In yesterday’s post I tried to attract a better class of reader with a terribly serious review of a PROPER GROWN UP BOOK on the English language.

Let’s be honest, it was a bit ambitious for a blog whose readership consists of barely-literate family members and washed-up, burnt-out industry has-beens.

(It did however did reveal one gem though. It turns out Adland Suit’s Grandad was no less than literary BIGSHOT, the late Robert Burchfield. This is a BIG DEAL. He wrote stuff like, you know, the Dictionary. Admittedly I did poo-poo his revision of Modern English Usage, but it was only a poo-poo in relation to Fowler which is in reality no poo-poo at all.)

So anyway, today I’m lowering my sights a little, with a modern classic that’s accessible to common people.

This is for all those of us who stayed up late (having school next day) listening to the first (and usually last) airing of songs by bands with names like Agraphobic Nosebleed and Serious Drinking.

Peel’s great achievement in this book is perfectly translating his voice onto paper. It’s uncanny, and lovely to hear again. As a homage, I’m thinking of writing my next British Gas bill stuffer in those dulcet Scouse tones.

Sadly, he was only halfway through writing it when he died in 2004. So his wife Sheila picks up the story. As a result, the second half is less delightfully Peel-y but still a worthy read.

As you’d expect, it’s got some cracking anecdotes, like how he wound up at a press conference in the Dallas Police Headquarters the night Kennedy was shot. To prove it’s true, you can see him at 5:08 here.

Now, for your reading pleasure, I include my favourite bit, the fantastically surreal Bay City Rollers appearance at a Radio 1 Roadshow at Mallory Park.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Non-fiction Week!

In a bid to actually write something again, I’m declaring this Non-fiction Week. Each day, I will review a non-fiction book until my enthusiasm wanes after one or two posts.

Because you’re not the brightest bunch, it’s probably worth explaining the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

Put simply, non-fiction has fewer unicorns and elves and is generally poorer for it. Also, the pictures are rubbish.

There are, however, a few non-fiction books that are okay.

Let’s start with this beauty.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Probably the most influential reference book on the English language of the Twentieth Century. It’s certainly my favourite reference book, along with the indispensable, 'What rash?'

It’s not often you get a guide that’s not only amazingly helpful but that you can also idly browse for amusement. That’s because Fowler is mad as a fish. And brilliant. Here are a couple of his most famously helpfilarious (that's right, I combined helpful and hilarious into a single word) entries.

paragraph. The purpose of paragraphing is to give the reader a rest. The writer is saying to him: 'Have you got that? If so, I'll go on to the next point.' there can be no general rule about the most suitable length for a paragraph; a succession of very short ones is as irritating as very long ones are wearisome.

split infinitive. The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know and condemn; (4) those who know and approve; (5) those who know and distinguish.
1. Those who neither know nor care are the vast majority, and are a happy folk, to be envied by most of the minority classes.

Welsh "Rarebit". Welsh Rabbit is amusing and right. Welsh Rarebit is stupid and wrong.

Good eh? Much better than your average dry, dusty tome.

Another reason I really love this book is the beautiful and poignant preface.





I think of it as it should have been, with its prolixities docked, its dullnesses enlivened, its fads eliminated, its truths multiplied. He had a nimbler wit, a better sense of proportion, and a more open mind, than his twelve-year-older partner; and it is matter of regret that we had not, at a certain point, arranged our undertakings otherwise than we did.

In 1911 we started work simultaneously on the Pocket Oxford Dictionary and this book; living close together, we could, and did, compare notes; but each was to get one book into shape by writing its first quarter or half; and so much only had been done before the war. The one in which, as the less mechanical, his ideas and contributions would have had much the greater value had been assigned, by ill chance, to me. In 1918 he died, aged 47, of tuberculosis contracted during service with the B.E.F. in 1915-16.

The present book accordingly contains none of his actual writing; but, having been designed in consultation with him, it is the last fruit of a partnership that began in 1903 with our translation of Lucian.

If you're after a copy, Burchfield created a third edition in 1996 which was in fact a complete rewrite and, by all accounts, guffier. But in 2009 the first edition was reprinted, so you're probably better off getting that.

Or just do what I did and nick your dad's.

Monday, April 18, 2011

My new product for the iPhone 4

From time to time I dabble in product design.

The other day, I was working with my friend Andy. We were trying to find an answer to one of the greatest challenges of modern life: How can I watch stuff on my iPhone 4 while eating?

I began experimenting with materials. I quickly found that wool was too soft, while seafood quickly went off.

Then Andy said what about trying a thermoplastic elastomer, a mix of plastic and rubber that won't scratch your iPhone and is really tough and a little bit bendy.

I knew instinctively that this was a terrible idea but didn’t want to discourage him as he’s a sensitive soul.

Anyway, here it is.

I’ll admit, it turned out better than I thought.

The Piolo is very light and neat. You can keep it on your keyring. Or in your pocket. Or on your keyring in your pocket.

It’s £4, plus 80p postage to anywhere in the world.

Look! Even Wired says it's brilliant.

Get yours today and support brilliantly creative, courageously entrepreneurial designers like Andy.