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Life in Solitary: Gentle Wind Can Be Offensive

Published on: 27 Nov, 2020
Updated on: 29 Nov, 2020

Tony Edwards

The Lockdown Diary of Tony Edwards

A Novel Complaint

I’ve just received a complaint about a novel I wrote a while back. It was from a woman who says she’s “rather bothered” about a line in the very first paragraph.

For all know, she hasn’t read beyond the offending line; she didn’t say. But, before I explain her problem, I invite you to read the paragraph in question to see if anything rather bothers you.

“Roof down, volume up, the powder blue Porsche roared from the shadows of the hotel’s underground car park into the afternoon sunshine like a heat-seeking missile. Left hand on the wheel, the other quickly twisting her long black hair into an elastic band, Angela Gannesh sliced an erratic path through the London traffic and headed for home, ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ screaming in stereo at a clear blue sky.”

The offending novel.

The novel is set in 1971 and the narrative explains that my heroine has spent the afternoon with her lover in an up-market, Knightsbridge hotel suite and is now heading for home where her devoted (and rich) husband awaits her return. But what apparently bothers my reader is her hair. She claims it’s impossible to twist long hair into an elastic band with just one hand, and insists you need both hands.

I totally disagree, having seen a friend’s wife do it with one hand, albeit she’s a blonde and was driving a “dimple” Mercedes 280SL at the time. But I’d hoped for a more constructive critique of, maybe, the story-line, the plot, or even the style of writing, rather than the heroine’s incidental hair-twisting skills.

I bet Emily Bronte didn’t receive such pedantic, nit-picking criticism of Heathcliff’s gypsy “black eyes” from some 18th century busy body demanding to know if she meant the colour of his pupils or facial bruising from a couple of left hooks?

Minding Your Language

I have a friend who swears quite a lot. Actually, it’s worse than that; he swears constantly but says the offending words are merely “sentence enhancers” and, anyway, people really shouldn’t be so sensitive about words.

He definitely swears more persistently when he’s on the ‘phone, and in places where you wouldn’t believe you could squeeze a swear word into the conversation, so I decided to count the torrent of expletives in a half-hour conversation with him this week. I think the tally was 52 – which is not far off two-a-minute. But I might have missed or misheard a few others as he talks extremely quickly, and I wasn’t sure we still count bugger and damn as genuine swear words these days.

So I checked. Turns out there’s an official list, compiled by Ofcom, which ranks swear words based on reactions from research among 200 people and their levels of offence.

They’re rated under four headings: Mild, Medium, Strong, and Strongest with around a dozen or so words in each category. You may be interested to know that “Bugger” and “Damn” appear in the “Mild” list along with, believe it or not, “Git” and “Ginger” (no, I didn’t know they were swear words either).

Unsurprisingly, the majority of my friend’s language falls into the “Strong” and “Strongest” categories so I emailed him a list of alternatives from the “Mild” and “Medium” lists for future use.

He emailed back to say none of them really qualified as “sentence enhancers” so he was unable to use them in the foreseeable future. But he’d appreciate a copy of the Obscene list if there was one. And, if there wasn’t, he might be able to help.

Better Late?

I received a curious birthday card on Monday. I’m not sure if it’s an early card for my next birthday or a late arrival from my last birthday in March. Probably been locked down somewhere.

Will Covid Kill the Neck Tie?

I haven’t worn a tie for nearly a year, which won’t be a surprise to the millions of men who’ve already discarded the formality of shirts and ties for something more casual during nine months of working from home.

But, as former PR for the Guild of British Tie Makers, I’m feeling guilty about swapping my ties for polo necks and T-shirt.

Chris Tarrant a Tie Guild celebrity “Top Tie Wearer” in the 1990s

The Guild once represented Britain’s tie industry and I spent many years countering endless media predictions that the necktie was doomed; archaic and uncomfortable they called it. Today I’d find it difficult to put forward any kind of valid defence when even the young royals are regularly pictured with open-necked shirts.

But as the tie slides towards extinction, you might be interested to know how this apparently pointless garment came into being in the first place.

It all began in the early 19th century when no self-respecting Regency buck would dare to be seen without a high shirt collar and a “neckcloth”, one of the various styles of stocks and cravats of the period which were wound around the neck to create the illusion of a noble head resting on a Grecian column.

Some historians claim that the formal tie first appeared in the 1920s. But my Guild research revealed that it was nearly 100 years earlier, when duelling with epee swords was common among the landed gentry.

Serious injury was rare and, after removing your jacket and “getting shirty”, the tactic was to untie the stock or cravat of your opponent with the point of your epee and draw a drop or two of blood to signify a “win”. Your opponent would be thus “undone” with two blood-tinged strips of cloth hanging down over his chest. It was this gentlemanly and highly macho imagery that gave birth to the tie.

Now, 200 years later, fate seems to have decreed that working from home will hasten the demise of the humble necktie, an unexpected victim of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Sorry Story of a Croaky Throat

My voice was a bit croaky last week. And then I developed a sore throat but comforted myself with the knowledge that neither is a symptom of Covid-19, at least that’s what I thought.

But I was wrong. It turns out that a “scratchy” throat and a “hoarse” voice are symptoms to watch for but nobody bothers to mention them.

My voice had started to crack-up by the Wednesday evening, which was a bit inconvenient as I was due to say a few words at a virtual meeting of the Ockham & Hatchford Residents’ Association.

My back-up plan is usually my original plan with a bit more alcohol, but even a large Famous Grouse failed to help. So I stumbled through the saga of a Cartier party in Paris, lurched on to a story about an ungrateful housebuilder, and was hoping to croak my way through a mystical tale involving a clairvoyant from Coventry and a Daily Mirror reporter, when my voice finally died.

The good news is that my symptoms faded after a day or so and, twelve days on, I’m feeling OKish. But my voice failure reminded me of The Windsor Castle pub in Notting Hill where I used to marvel at actor Richard Harris ordering a round of drinks from the far side of a crowded, noisy bar, using a stage whisper, proving that the quietest of voices can cut through even the pandemonium of a pub, if you have the knack. And he certainly had it.

Itching to touch my face?

Lately, I feel sudden and uncontrollable urges to rub my eyes, scratch my forehead, blow my nose, stroke my chin, run my fingers through my hair or stick an urgent finger in my ear at the precise moment I realise it’s been a long time since I last washed my hands and sang happy birthday.

It’s as if my face suddenly develops a spate of itching when my hands are at their most dangerous. Damned clever, this virus.

Leanne Battersby (Jane Danson) at an Edwards photo-call.

The ‘Corrie’ Horror Show

Coronation Street, the longest-running soap opera in the history of TV, celebrates its 60th birthday on December 9th. But more recent story-lines bear little resemblance to the original back street intrigue served-up on Corrie’s cobbles by Tony Warren (real name Anthony McVay Simpson), the author and scriptwriter who created the series.

Back then Tony Warren focussed on ordinary people doing everyday things; highly believable plots which entertained and often raised a smile.

More recently we’ve seen a multitude of murders, male and female rapes, kidnappings, beatings, armed robberies, domestic violence, drugs, alcohol addiction, people trafficking, non-stop bed-hopping and enough sad and unexpected deaths to send sales of Kleenex tissues rocketing.

Tonight’s episode (November 27th) sees the sad passing of Oliver, Leanne and Steve’s three-year-old son. Once again there will probably be a pre-announcement that some viewers may find some scenes upsetting, followed by an, “If you have been affected by this programme…” invitation to talk to an expert as the credits roll.

I can’t believe Tony Warren would have penned such depressing storylines for the show which, by the way, was to have been called Florizel Street until a Granada TV cleaner commented that it sounded like a disinfectant. If Tony were alive today, he’d probably continue to focus on the northern humour and trivial rivalry and back-biting between close neighbours.

If you fancy a taste of Tony Warren’s subtle humour, two of his novels, The Lights of Manchester and Foot of the Rainbow, might be a good place to start.

Patience in Park Lane

I admit I don’t have a lot of patience at the best of times. It’s something I’m forced to practice when there are too many witnesses. So I can sympathise with irate drivers caught up in Central London’s horrendous new traffic chaos – a direct result of slicing-up already narrow roads to create massive “temporary” cycle lanes, used by only a trickle of cyclists.

I’m not anti-bike or cycle lanes but we need to keep a sense of proportion. Perhaps, if someone told the mayor his brain is an app, he might start using it.

The Five Day Christmas ‘Feign Lights’.

This week’s announcement of a five-day pause on Covid-19 restrictions this Christmas sounds a bit like the one-day cease-fire between the British and German armies on Christmas Day 1914, when troops along the Western Front declared an unofficial truce and stopped fighting.

I just hope someone remembers to tell the Coronavirus about this year’s five-day Christmas ‘feign lights’ arrangement.

Thought for the Day

Always remember that if Plan A fails, there are still another 25 letters in the alphabet.

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