How do you spell that?

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Every time I write the word ‘diarrhoea’ I seem to mis-spell it! And I bet I’m not the only one. In fact anyone reading this may already be questioning my spelling of diarrhea . At one time I would upbraid myself for not remembering, after all I seem to make the same mistake repeatedly and invariably have to check my spelling.

Eventually I came to the realization there is another explanation for my apparent stupidity; it’s all about culture! In particular, as an Englishman living in Canada, it’s about the difference between English (that which I occasionally still refer to as ‘proper’ English, a foolish notion I readily concede) and American English, which of course refers to English as she is written, spelt (you may prefer, ‘spelled’) and spoken  in the USA. Because I live in Canada and do not always select or in deed even have the choice to opt for ‘English English’, any spell check is likely to detect spelling differences and thus leave me with a kind of linguistic  schizophrenia. That’s my excuse anyway and I’m sticking with it.

To what extent it is really important can depend upon numerous factors probably too obvious to enumerate here, but I’m thinking of one’s CV/resume for example where one would be wise to use correct spelling; and by correct of course one means that which is accepted as such in the country/culture in which one lives or at least where one is submitting a CV/resume.

Interestingly when it comes down to reading and understanding what one is trying to communicate apparently we don’t actually need to spell ‘correctly’ at all. As long as the words we commit to paper begin and end with the correct letters our brains can normally decipher (‘scramble’) and recognize words at a glance.

spelling-I remember the response I once heard from a teacher many years ago encouraging his pupils to write. A pupil put-up his hand lamenting, “Sir, but I can’t spell!”. To which the teacher wisely replied that he should not be overly concerned about spelling but rather the all important purpose of language, be it written or spoken, namely, communication . And I’m inclined to agree, though not fanatically. Does it really matter when I’m texting that I use ‘natural’ abbreviations; ‘u’ instead of ‘You’ or “b” rather than ‘be’ for example. The recipient gets my meaning and one presumes may even process the message a fraction of a second more quickly.

It’s nice to be precise and preferably accurate though I suspect none of us are free from the odd mis-use of  words. However, it is a little irritating when a reviewer criticizes ones writing on grounds of bad spelling when in fact they haven’t realized one is writing in English rather US English.

All this and the correct spelling of diarrhea led me to Google ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’; the result is helpful, not to say, fascinating.

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Doing it better with a dog…

There is no doubt in my experience one can do it better with a dog! I refer of course to walking, and before any seasoned hikers who happen not to be dog owners contradict me, I  had better qualify my statement. The sort of walking to which I refer is that which I do at least three times daily specifically for the benefit of our little pooch. Max doing the bear.

If Max happens to be in a walking frame of mind, a state often predetermined by the number of scent trails luring him onward, we might cover several blocks of my Vancouver neighbourhood which isn’t bad for a canine of very short legs.

Of course the exercise is also part of my daily health regime although of necessity I find myself doing extra leg-work without Max. That is when one notices the difference in human interaction. While Vancouver is generally a friendly place and strangers will usually respond favourably to one’s smile and at least do you the courtesy of returning a greeting, walking in company with a dog greatly improves and extends the experience.

Dog walkers stop and chat; they exchange names, of the dogs at least, and impart all manner of information, much of it relevant and even on occasion useful. One can learn about the neighbourhood vets, those to use and others best avoided, and where to buy the best value organic meat dog supplies. Max and I are now even on nose-rubbing intimacy with a local cat (his nose of course not mine) and  any postman resembling our own lovely delivery woman who carries doggie treats will be greeted from afar.

It all helps improve the friendly ethos of the city and the good thing is you don’t even have to own a dog to benefit; simply have the appropriate words of praise, however casually delivered in the general direction of someone walking their beloved canine and a warm response is virtually guaranteed.

More free books…

We are very fortunate in Vancouver having a great free library network. Even if one’s own particular branch does not have an item in stock there is a very good chance one of the many other branches will. Everyone gets 50 free item requests a year so one would need to read or watch a great deal of material to get through that.

If the libraries don’t have what you want, say the latest book by a particular author or even an obscure DVD, you can put in a request for it to be purchased, and though this is not guaranteed there is a fairly good chance you will get.

Lately there has been another source of free books appearing on our neighbourhood streets in the form of little book booths. I know of three all within easy walking distance and usually well stocked with volumes no longer required by their owners. 023m

Essentially one opens the glass door and takes any book that is of interest with the understanding it is a two-way process; at some point if not immediately it is hoped that you in turn will have some unwanted books to donate. I think it’s a great idea. This morning I came upon another booth and this one even has a little roof-top garden which, while it doesn’t look much right now, could be very attractive later in the year.

To FB or Not to FB, that is the question?

I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, whether I should continue to Facebook or not. I have to concede this is probably an annual dilemma for me ever since I first signed-up for FB; actually I don’t think I did, it was my partner who did it for me, but that’s an entirely different issue. Usually at the start of a New Year I experience an impulse to tidy-up my life a bit and make better use of what time remains to me. Not that I have intentions or  a desire to abandon this planet just yet, but we are all after all on borrowed time so to speak.

Apparently I’m not alone. A recent Guardian article says the young are leaving this social network in droves though I of course can hardly count myself among the young, except in spirit perhaps! Nor would  I be horrified at the prospect of my mother wanting to befriend me, which evidently is cause enough for many young folk to abandon FB in favour of more recent fads (I have to google  what they might be and see if any appeal). Not that mother wouldn’t want to be my friend I’m sure, but at 88 years old she hasn’t ventured on-line. No, I have other concerns.

The fact is, like so many, I find myself spending far too much time scrolling through an ever-growing post-filled page. I’m almost over-whelmed by the information fed me and heaven forbid I explore further the links proffered; I’d be sitting at my desk all day which aside from other considerations is notoriously bad for one’s health.

And then there’s this mounting concern that FB tracks and stores everything I do, apparently even the things I ‘un-do’. Of course I know the bottom line, anything one does on-line is recorded, a bit like our thoughts I suspect, they go out into the ether we not where exactly and to what precise effect, but they can’t be recalled!  It makes me stop and think. I am by nature a private person; I prefer to choose to whom I allow access and frankly I don’t trust FB sufficiently to believe in its ‘privacy’ options.

In the end chances are I’ll take a rest from it; the cold turkey approach in hopes I can actually wean myself at least a little (does that intention already betray the addict in me). Surely it can’t be that hard. I will have to forego all those family photos and up-dates from groups to which I subscribed (they can email me instead). And I will need to resist asking my partner to share his FB news; which come to think about it may be why he signed me up for my own account in the first place.

A Dying Breed…

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The post lady just delivered four letters. No surprise two were bills but thankfully the others were personal from long-time friends and when I say ‘long-time’ I mean going back 40+ years. In fact we were recently speculating that our generation may well be a dying breed, the last to actively engage in letter writing, meaning the use of pen and ink, paper, envelopes and stamps. In many ways it will surely be rather sad if, or perhaps one should say ‘when’ the art and ability to compose and mail real letters is finally lost to the inevitable technology of the internet. Of course there may be advantages in terms of conserving paper, though that would be questionable. Our wonderful post lady who is very well-informed about all matters relating to Canada Post for example, tells me its employees are obliged to give priority delivery not to one’s beloved personal mail but rather the ghastly mountains of often unwanted and certainly unsolicited junk distributed by big and not so big business. Our mailbox boldly displays a red dot which in theory prohibits delivery of junk mail. I have to say it does seem to work for us and I’m a little surprised that many people are unaware of this option.

Presumably another asset is the fact our personal hand-written mail is unlikely to undergo any scrutiny by surveillance agencies, unless of course they have you in their sights for some specific reason. Certainly, if one is prepared, able and wanting to store one’s letters they can represent a vast source of future interest and pleasure when re-read in later years and can not simply disappear for ever in the event of some cyberspace blackout! For decades I kept hordes of personal correspondence but alas, when the time came to sift through them and of necessity dispose of the majority they were mostly consigned to a bonfire. A great loss I now realise, though some survived  and ever since I have started hording again!

Today’s letters included a quote from Horace:

Horace

‘Aeguam memento

rebus in arduis

servare mentem…’

which being translated, by my very erudite friend, reads:

‘Remember to keep a calm spirit when things get tough…’

I’ll let that be my motto for the day!

Goodbye Britannica….

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During the week a local resident placed several large boxes at their front gate containing a complete set of the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’. A sign attached said, ‘FREE’. Sadly after several days and a few showers in between there have been no takers and the big volumes are spoiled. Had I the energy I might have hauled them to our recycling bin but hopefully the garbage collector will assign them appropriately.

Seeing those once precious books discarded got me thinking. As a child I’m not sure our country school even had a set of the illustrious Britannica but as I progressed through the British education system it was certainly a standard requirement for any library. It was much frequented for essential information in order to complete essay assignments. A set wasn’t cheap and occasionally flyers would come through the mail or perhaps appear in ‘Readers Digest’ offering one at a supposedly bargain price. Even so it was way beyond our family means.

I’m speaking of the pre-internet age of course when the masses hadn’t even become aware of that concept and books were one’s prime source of knowledge, or at least what was regarded as such; perhaps ‘information’ might be a more appropriate word. Logically the bigger and better the library or one’s access to books, the more information one had available. It’s one of the reasons throughout the history of civilizations books and libraries, not to mention literacy, have played such an important part in the dissemination of knowledge and often influenced the course of history.

It is also why they were regarded by some as dangerous and often drastic means taken either to destroy them (Hitler’s Nazis joyously burning books) or greatly restrict access. It explains why the Catholic Church didn’t want a literate congregation and was aghast once the Bible was translated from Latin. This brings me to the 21st century and the current trends.

We are presently blessed with more access to information via the internet than at any time in human history, though for how much longer remains to be seen. The Encyclopaedia Britannica is no longer published in book form, though still available on-line. I delight in having so much at my finger-tips but there is a serious flaw in the system.

This morning our server is down for reasons unknown, or at least not being made public. One hopes and expects the ‘problem’ will soon be resolved but meanwhile there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. We are now totally at the mercy of the powers that provide our information source. It is disturbingly apparent how easily we can be deprived of it. What’s equally alarming is that it’s happening already. China denies its citizens the benefit of unlimited internet access for example and here in Canada Harper is already effectively and literally burning books again. The current secret ITT talks between various governments re: the internet et al, are another ominous sign of things to come.

I hope I’m not being too alarmist but one thing is for sure, I’m not ditching my books anytime soon and attaching even greater value to those that deal with self-sufficiency and survival in times that seem to be veering back towards the Dark Ages!

Why Bother?

Not for the first time I sit at my little Vaio tapping into my thoughts and the keyboard and ask myself why bother? Who is reading this blog anyway?

Of course this recurring and often disturbing thought must surely occur to many bloggers and there are a number of salient retorts all good for boosting one’s morale. The one I find most frequently effective is the reflection that writing requires practice; the more you do it the better it gets regardless whether or not anyone but you is reading it.

Sufficient unto the day is one’s writing, with or without an audience!