Thursday, December 09, 2004

Abet Abet Abet

I love obscure facts. I am resolved to share my love of obscure facts with the world. The world needs to hear more obscure facts.

Here's a good one. It seems that in days of the Ethiopian empire (that ended rather miserably in 1974 when Haile Selassie was driven away from the Jubilee palace in a pale blue Beetle and never seen again) anyone at all had the right to approach the emperor and cry out "Abet Abet Abet". As soon as he heard this he was obliged instantly to stop whatever he was doing, listen to the person's complaint and help in whatever way he could. People would lurk at the side of the road and call out "Abet Abet Abet" when he drove past, bringing his motorcade to a sudden stop. Then they would pass him petitions through his car window.

Good idea!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


More infuriating than trundly suitcases are Strollers. Actually Strollers are very often found in charge of a trundly suitcase. But they do not strictly require one. They can annoy you all by themselves using a twofold strategy. All they have to do is (1) keep to the middle of the road, tunnel or stairway you're trying to use (2) walk v-e-e-e-r-y v-e-e-e-e-r-y sl-o-o-o-o-o-w-ly in front of you.

Please note, I do not complain about old people, or disabled people, or any other people who have a perfectly good reason for walking slowly. These people are usually very considerate of other walkers, and even when I can't pass them, I'm quite happy to hang back and give them time to move as well as they can. Nor do I have a word against anyone whose natural inclination is to dawdle along. No, I'm only bitching about those perfectly fit young people who go slowly AND HOG THE WHOLE &*$%£$@ PAVEMENT. What is their problem? How is it they can't sense the restless mob of frustrated walkers crammed behind them as they saunter along? This is a mystery. I blame the parents.

Trundly suitcases

Don't you hate those trundly suitcases? I mean other people's trundly suitcases. When you're the one who has to schlep 40 kgs of luggage to the airport they're the most wonderful invention. You can't imagine how people in the olden days got on without them. But when you're stuck behind a family of well-heeled tourists from Milan with all the time in the world to gawk at the quaint sights of London as they amble along Oxford Street, each trailing a modish trundly suitcase behind them, they're just the most infuriating thing ever.

And most infuriating of all are those MINI trundly suitcases - the teeny tiny ones the size of a shoebox. I mean what is the point? Can't you just carry the thing in your hand? Oh no, you can't possibly do that! Never mind that it's actually much harder dragging the thing behind you.

Green Tea

I've got a headache. Have I been drinking too much green tea?

Crowded pavements

For the benefit of readers who don't know this place, the sprawling megalopolis of London contains something called the "the City of London". This is a small area of about a square mile vaguely near the middle of everthing. It's the withered kernel of the original London. It used to be bounded by the city wall, and as you might imagine is quite well stocked with quaint historical relics.

But as London grew, the City turned into a financial district. Nowadays it's crowded with nasty glass towers full of people in suits who swarm in during the day, make money, eat sandwiches in a highly competitive fashion (usually at their desks), make more money, then swarm out again at night, leaving the streets eerily deserted.

As the City evolved into the glittering citadel of greed, the centre of life in London moved steadily westwards to a more friendly place called the "West End". This is the real heart of London for most people. It's where you'll find huge numbers of shops, theatres and other interesting stuff. It's usually the first place all the tourists head when they fall off the plane.

And this, dear reader, is where I work. Usually it's very nice. I'd much rather work here than in that horrendous dead zone further east. I laboured there for six months once, and although the money was good it wasn't a pleasant experience. The City is just a monstrous machine for extracting the juices from people.

No, I'm very grateful to be working in this part of town. Normally it's a fascinating place to be. But at Christmas! The whole place is suddenly clogged up with a completely impenetrable mass of humanity. Oxford Street, the epicentre of shopping, is overrun at every hour of the day by a seemingly infinite herd charging from shop to shop clutching bags. Once the sun's gone down (about 3 p.m.) it seems like you're stuck in some hellish region of lost souls doomed forever to barge blindly against each other.

I'm scared to go out the door!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


Well comrades, wasn't NaNoWriMo fabuloso? Just what I needed to get me off my fat arse and writing at last. What a debt of gratitude we owe to the clever people who invented it.

I'm so relieved I made it to the 50,000 word total and avoided complete disgrace – even though only about 15,000 of those words seems any good to me now. I was getting really worn out towards the end. Got so sick of sitting at the same manky kitchen table staring at the same fluff by the washing machine. Thinking back, I can see it was a mistake not to bother cleaning the flat, changing bedlinen (yuk) or eating properly. If I'd taken a bit more care over the maintenance side maybe my brain wouldn't have got so stale and maybe I would've written better quality stuff.

And now I'm finding it hard to keep going. I feel like taking a complete break, but I'm nervous I won't be able to pick up the story when I get back to it. Ho hum. Still, it's been excellent practice and it's taught me a lot of stuff about writing a long story that I never came across in any of the guides I read. You can't beat actually trying it! The whole exercise has given me a lively new respect for people who do actually manage to finish a book. It's all very easy when you're lying on the sofa to think "Oh I could do that much better"; it's a whole nother thing when you're actually sitting in front of the keyboard and you're the one responsible for coming up with the words.

Talking about word counts, I'm just reading a fascinating history of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Meaning of Everything. If you're not familiar with the OED, it's the supreme English dictionary. In fact people say it's the greatest dictionary of any language ever. It contains every word ever recorded in English from about 1150, in every variant and every different shade of meaning. OK, our language changes so fast no dictionary is ever really totally up to date: but nothing comes as close as the OED.

I was the proud owner of a Compact OED for a year or two when I was at college. The Compact OED provides a way for poor persons to possess their very own OED. It's a hefty volume. Each thin but enormous page contains nine photographically-reduced pages of the full-size OED in teeny tiny print. The whole thing is packaged in a sturdy dark blue slipcase, with a little drawer in the bottom containing a complimentary magnifying glass, so you can peer at all those lovely words.

Anyway, the book prompted me to look idly to see how much the OED costs these days. And quelle surprise, what did I find but another transatlantic ripoff! On (not that I would ever contemplate using Amazon) the 20 volumes are being offered at about $900 for the benefit of spoilt Americans. It's not even listed on, but at the Oxford University Press site it's priced at £2,000 or $3,900! Outrageous!!

Not much else to report. Just read Shauny's blog again for the first time in ages. If you haven't seen it check it out at once. This young woman is a genius. I wish I could write half so well as she.