Monday, 15 October 2012

Substitute and replace

I have a blogger acquaintance who posts everyday. I don't know how he does it. I continue to read the Globe and Mail, but let errors go by because I'm just not up to railing against them. But this morning, after puzzling over a paragraph before I could understand it, I had to protest against the misuse of a word that caused me to lose a few precious moments of my day.

Read the following paragraph. Do you notice something odd about it? If you don't, then the error is insidious indeed.

Try lowering the calories in your favourite comfort food by substituting high-fat ingredients with lower-fat ones. For example, make chili with lean ground turkey instead of ground beef or top shepherd's pie with pureed cauliflower instead of mashed potato.

At first I was thrown. How would you lose weight by using high-fat instead of low-fat ingredients? Was this some kind of paleo diet recommendation? Then I realised I had been thrown off the track by the misuse of the word "substitute", which does not mean "to replace", but "to put something in the place of".

You replace an old item with a new item. You substitute the new item for the old item. Notice the prepositions. You won't go wrong if you remember that "substitute" can only be followed by "for", never "with".

So, the paragraph in this morning's paper should have read:

Try lowering the calories in your favourite comfort food by replacing high-fat ingredients with lower-fat ones.


Try lowering the calories in your favourite comfort food by substituting low-fat ingredients for higher-fat ones.

but not,

Try lowering the calories in your favourite comfort food by substituting high-fat ingredients with lower-fat ones.

This is an error to fight against, because it is confusing and misleading.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Wacky politics!

It’s always difficult belonging to a union when the industrial action you take hurts not the rich capitalist bosses who are trying to rip the shirt off your back, but an innocent third party who gets caught in the crossfire. It is particularly difficult when you’re a teacher and it’s your students who get hurt, and not the school board or the government. Where do your loyalties lie? To your colleagues or your students?

Gary Mason writes in the Globe this morning about a teacher who is defying his union and upsetting his colleagues by continuing to coach his girls’ soccer team rather than let them down and spoil their year. Good for him!

Why has it come to this? I haven’t been following BC teachers’ politics, but why can’t the issue be settled by binding arbitration as in other provinces, or final-offer arbitration as in other countries?

Much as I love the climate out here, I have to say that the politics are often wacky!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

An open letter to the Globe and Mail

For almost a year now I’ve been amusing myself by writing a blog. It helps to pass the time and satisfies the inner need to be creative in some way. As a retired English teacher, and a former member of a raging grammarian group of like-minded curmudgeons, I decided to write a grammar blog. And what really prompted me, and provided most of the substance of my blog, was the growing number of errors that I was noticing in my favourite newspaper, the Globe and Mail. One in particular incurred my wrath, and threatened an apoplectic fit, but I’ll come to that later.

I realize that some people would call me old-fashioned. I have to admit that language evolves and that many of the neologisms that I abhor have found their way into the dictionary. I still say “sneaked” instead of “snuck” or “dived” instead of  “dove”. I can’t bring myself to “access” my bank account. Nor would I ever have a “fun” time. I admit that I’m probably picky, and many of my bĂȘtes noirs have now become common currency.

So I just have to get over it when the Globe uses “forecasted” instead of “forecast”, or “fortuitous” instead of “fortunate” or “disinterested” instead of  “uninterested”, or “fulsome” instead of “full”, or “comprises” instead of “constitutes”, or “enormity” instead of “enormousness”. When enough people use a word incorrectly, it eventually becomes correct.

However, many of the changes in usage I observe in the Globe have not yet become acceptable, even if they are current among the young. Just recently, in the Travel section I read:

For people bored of playing war on their video-game systems, the "Seal Team Six" package comes with a semi-automatic rifle so advanced that it can only be named with a series of letters and numbers - the MR556A1.... (Globe, 13 March, 2012)

True, there is no rhyme or reason behind which preposition goes after a particular verb. Thus one may be "tired of", "exhausted from", "fed up with", addicted to", "intrigued by" playing video games. But most people would be bored with it.

Indeed, many of the errors that I notice have not yet become acceptable in standard English, and should not be found in a newspaper that used to take pride in modelling correct usage, and still follows, I believe, its own stylebook, which would decry the errors it makes.

For example, the Globe and Mail stylebook would explain the distinction in Canadian English between “licence” (the noun) and “license” (the verb). In the example below, the writer has probably let his better judgement be overruled by the American spell-check on the computer.

Unlike health cards, which usually aren't sent out for a few weeks after a replacement request has been fulfilled, a temporary driver's license can be issued after the forms have been processed (Globe, 23 August, 2011).

A glance at his own driver’s licence would have confirmed the correct spelling.

Similarly the Globe seems to have a problem with “prophecy” and “prophesy”, another pair of verbs where the noun is spelled with a “c” and the verb with an “s”. In a review of a modern derivative of the play Macbeth, we read that:

Bearing news of the witches' prophesies, [the letter] was somewhat carelessly left lying around.... (Globe, 11 September, 2011)

The reference should, of course, be to the witches' prophecies.

Even worse is the error in an article on the Paris Fashion Week.

"Everything is changing," prophesized the designer post show. (Globe, March 18, 2011)

The verb “prophesize” won’t be found in any dictionary.

Apostrophes pose a problem for some of the writers at the Globe.

Statistics Canada released it's annual survey of police-reported crime on Tuesday (Globe, 22 July 2011).

The writer probably knows the difference between "it's", the contraction of "it is", and "its", the possessive. The above error is a slip that would once have been picked up by a proofreader, but in the newspaper industry today, proofreaders have likely been replaced by Spell-check, which has its obvious failings. The same may be true of the following error:

Islamist group's such as the Muslim Brotherhood... argue that... only a parliament chosen by free election can set the terms for a constitution. (Globe, 29 July 2011)

As Pope said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing." Some people learned at school to put an apostrophe before the "s" and extended the rule to every "s" they wrote, including plurals and verbs. Although I haven’t seen it yet, the day may come when I read in the Globe that rock and roll rule’s.

Another common error in the Globe results from the confusion of the uses of  the preposition "like" and the conjunction "as". We often hear this error on sports programs as players make statements such as,

"Like I said, we have to give 110%." 

instead of 

"As I said, we have to give 110%."

But we shouldn't be seeing it in the Globe and Mail.  In an editorial on August 20, 2011, on the crackdown by the Syrian authorities on their people, we read:

Like in Egypt, they (the police) may soon tire of killing the innocent.

Now to the egregious error I have seen many times in the Globe. When it appears, I know that howls of horror are heard across the land. I refer to the writers’ ignorance of the distinction between the transitive verb “lay” and the intransitive verb “lie”. Here’s an example.

She (a tiger) was tranquillized, placed in a snare and forced to lay in wait as the famously tardy leader (Vladimir Putin) got to the site (Globe, 17 March, 2012).

In another example the writer makes two errors in the one sentence as he confuses “careen” and “career” as well as “lie” and “lay”.

Travelling at highway speeds in a wind-powered go-cart.... Who’s it for? Those who would rather careen down a sandy beach than lay on it. (Globe, 12 August, 2011)

As I’m sure many an English teacher has said, we lay our towel on a beach but we lie on the sand. And as Stephen Sondheim put it, you career from career to career, whereas Captain Cook careened his ship on the beach after striking the Great Barrier Reef.

And here is the example of the lie/lay error, which made me tear my hair, scream “What is happening at the Globe?” and post this essay to affirm that some readers still care. In the May 11 edition of  “A moment in time”, with reference to the death of Bob Marley, the writer begins, “

He got up, he stood up, and then he laid down.

Now that error is so bad, that I have to wonder, What is going on at the Globe? O the enormity of it! Do they not know, or do they not care?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Why I love Victoria (4)

It's a dog city.

The birds around me hopp'd and play'd,
Their thoughts I cannot measure,
But the least motion which they made
It seem'd a thrill of pleasure

Now old Shep has gone where the good doggies go.

Everywhere in Victoria, people walk their dogs. There are even five dog patrol officers to make sure those dogs are licensed. Along parts of Dallas Road the dogs run free, prancing around and chasing each other, fetching balls, and having such fun. Some of them go down to the beach and dive in the sea and proudly swim to shore with a stick or even a small log in their mouths.

Religious sceptic and rational being though I am, evolution doesn't explain for me the ineffable joy these and other animals display as they bound about.

I don't think I've seen so many or such a variety of dogs in any other town.

I used to have a dog with a more outgoing personality than mine. Her name was Tia. Today, when I walk down the street by myself, few people stop and chat. Some even look the other way. But with my dog, it would take me some time just to walk just a few blocks down to the coffee shop. Everyone would stop to pat her. Teenagers would find her cute. Old ladies would tell me about the dog they had lost and we would share our stories.

The veranda of the Moka House on Cook Street was chockers with dogs having coffee with their companions. Big dogs, small dogs, a cross section of the canine kingdom from little lappies to lumbering labs. Tia was less friendly with members of her own species than with humans, so we often had to run the gauntlet to find a spot.

Tia loved the coffee shop. Even in her last days, she wanted to go down for a coffee. Truth to tell, she loved the scraps she would pick up off the floor. She would pull me down the hill in quick time, but on the way back she would take forever. Eventually, it became a one-way trip: I would have to arrange for us to be picked up in the car.

Really, the Moka House is somewhat shabby in appearance, dark inside and rather wooden without, a coffee shop from an earlier time. But the dogs give it colour and character, and you don't notice its dullness. Once, a health inspector banned the dogs from the veranda, and for several months afterwards it was barren and bare. Business dropped off by 25%. Apparently, the health inspector had responded to a complaint from a unsympathetic member of the public. Now who would be so miserable? Eventually reason prevailed, and the dogs came back. I hope the health inspector was reprimanded for not exercising discretion.

I still go to the Moka House from time to time, but it's not the same. I sit alone without a dog.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Why I love Victoria (3)

It's a railway city.

After the first powerful, plain manifesto

The black statement of pistons, without more fuss

But gliding like a queen, she leaves the station.

Victoria is a railway city. Or it was. And will be again soon, I hope. Real towns have railways. The Esquimalt and Nanaimo, the Island's one remaining railway line, is temporarily out of action, but it's supposed to reopen next year with commuter trains running south to Victoria.

Until last year when the poor condition of the track forced closure of the service, you could set your clock by the "whistle" of the little diesel train pulling out of Victoria at eight o'clock in the morning. You couldn't set your clock by the sound of its return because it was rarely on time. But that was part of its charm.

This was a train you would catch for the pleasure of the journey, not to arrive anywhere on time. It would amble along, swaying from side to side on dodgy rails, stopping, before crawling across the ancient wooden trestle above Goldstream Park. It would begin and end at the quaint little station just on the Victoria side of the Johnson Street Bridge, where, alas, it will stop no more, since the short-sighted authorities have failed to fund a railway line across the new bridge.

 There is nothing quite so much fun as walking along a railway line, balancing on the rail, imagining the hordes of navvies building the line a century ago and hearing the old steam trains chugging along.

Victoria was once the terminus for a number of lines running north to Sydney and east to Sooke as well as up to Courtney. Would that they still ran! Three ran up the peninsular, one to Deep Cove and two to Sydney. Parts of these discontinued lines have become the Galloping Goose and Lochside Trails and the path on the west side of Elk Lake. All that remains of Victoria's glorious railway history are the rusty rails of the E&N. For now, all is silent.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Why I love Victoria (2)

It's a sunny city.

Fear no more the heat of the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages

Victoria is a sunny city. Don't laugh. It is! Victoria is the sunniest city in Canada outside the prairies. And when it's sunny on the prairies, it is usually so bloody cold that it freezes your proverbials. 

Victoria is sunnier than Montreal or Toronto, and all those other soggy cities down east. It ranks sixth in the list of sunny cities in Canada, in the average number of hours of bright sunshine, the average number of days with some bright sunshine, and the percentage of daylight hours that are sunny. That's sixth out of the 26 Canadian metropolitan areas that have a population of more than 150,000. 

Not only that, but everyone knows that the City of Victoria is much sunnier than anywhere else in the capital region, which is measured in the survey. It can be sunny in Fairfield, for example, when it’s raining cats and dogs in Saanich. So the more northern parts of the peninsular with their greater rainfall have skewed the stats, and the City of Victoria is probably higher on the list than sixth. Perhaps it's really the sunniest city in Canada. 

Rare are the occasions when the sun doesn't peep through the clouds at least once during the day. It's something to do with the little microclimate we enjoy on the tip of the island. The clouds swirl around, driven by  conflicting winds which blow the rain away. It can be raining one minute and sunny the next.

It's not unusual for rain to be forecast but not to arrive and it's sunny instead. I call this kind of day - when the weather forecast is delightfully wrong - an ARDIV: another rainy day in Victoria.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Why I love Victoria (1)

Sitting on my couch in pensive mood this morning, enjoying the bliss of solitude, I thought about why I love this place. In no time at all I came up with ten reasons why I love Victoria. Here's the first.

It's a walking city. 

Moreover, he hath left you all his walks,
His private arbors and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber. He hath left them you
And to your heirs forever – common pleasures,
To walk abroad and recreate yourselves.

There are walkers everywhere – on the streets and in the parks - slow walkers, fast walkers, power walkers, walkers alone and walkers in groups, walkers with walkers, walkers with dogs, and even walkers with cats.

If you have to take your dog for a walk in the wee small hours of the morning, you will pass someone else doing the same thing. And I used to pass a man walking his cat in the middle of the night. The cat was very timid, and would disappear into a front yard if anyone approached. This would leave his master standing alone on the sidewalk speaking into the darkness. I gave him a wide berth until he explained what he was doing.

In Victoria, motorists stop for pedestrians. They stop for you if you're on a crosswalk, or even if you're not.

You can walk around the harbour, along the ocean front, on the beach, in the city, or through the leafy suburbs looking at heritage homes and modern mansions. Or you can walk in the park.

I maintain without fear of contradiction that Victoria has more parks than any other city in Canada. And I'm not thinking of genteel parks like Beacon Hill with its cultivated gardens, duck ponds and petting zoo. I mean serious parks with real hiking trails like Mount Doug or Thetis Lake or John Deane Park, where you can be in old-growth forest within 20 minutes.

We enjoy these parks today because of the foresight and generosity of our ancestors. The colonial Brits set aside tracts of crown land as public reserves, and some of them have survived subsequent governments and developers. Mount Douglas is one such park. Others like John Deane Park were bequests to the municipality on condition that they never be developed.

In Victoria, you can walk any day of the year. And that is a hint at the second reason why I love this place.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Pronouns again

I've written about pronoun errors before, particularly when the writer erroneously uses the subjective rather than the objective form, thinking it's more genteel:

Come to dinner with Merle and I.

This error occurs because the pronoun is separated from the preposition which governs it: the ear would not allow,

Come to dinner with I.

I can find no such explanation for this morning's error in the Globe. Perhaps the writer was a little off centre in his relief that sanity had prevailed in the Alberta election. He writes about how the PC campaign managers realised a few days before the election that they were going to win:

It was that day that Ms. Elliot became confident, once again, they'd win. Neither her nor Mr. Carter predicted, however, they'd win so commandingly.

"She", of course, is the correct pronoun to use, as the subject of the verb "predicted". Was he thrown off by the conjunction "neither", thinking it was a preposition requiring the objective case? More likely, I suspect, it was a mere aberration, a one-off error, an unconscious reversion to his "her and I will clean the blackboard" school-slang days, made in the heady aftermath of a fortunate victory.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Shakespeare's birthday

That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

It is the wont of those of us no longer in our salad days to lament the past. There are certainly some things to be sad about.

Today was a happy day and a sad day. Happy, because we were celebrating the birthday of the greatest poet the world has ever known. To whit, I was sent to the local teachers' supply store find a poster to display at a little gathering we were having this evening in honour of the Bard. Sadly, they didn't have it. "I'm afraid we just don't have much demand for that anymore," she said. We commiserated on the sad state of an education that doesn't include Shakespeare.

Shakespeare isn't taught much anymore. Kids are no longer exposed to the magic of the poet who has been the single greatest influence on the language that we all speak.

I wonder why. Has Shakespeare somehow become politically incorrect? A dead white male poet? Or are his themes considered inappropriate? Or is it a reluctance to force kids to read something that may not be immediately relevant in today's world? Is it too hard?

I know that some teachers, given the choice, teach Shakespeare with a passion. But I also know that it's possible to go through school without reading a Shakespearian play or a Canadian novel. So much for the beauty of our language and the culture of our land!

Surely Shakespeare is more important than ever in a world that is becoming more and more materialistic and utilitarian, where governments are moving to the right, where funding for the arts is being cut, and our language is deteriorating into textspeak. 

Our generation had Shakespeare thrust upon us. We had to read it aloud in class. We had to recite soliloquies. And I for one am eternally grateful. I can think of nothing I learnt at school that has meant so much to me. What is life without beauty?

Tonight, at our gathering, as we sang songs, recited soliloquies, and read sonnets, every one of us gave silent thanks to a teacher who many years ago introduced us to Shakespeare.

Customer service

This post is an addendum to a previous post that you'll find on the link below:

I have long been interested in how some businesses can see the benefits of creating long-term good will in their customers, and others just don't get it.

MEC gets it. I recently spent a few days in Vancouver, and of course it rained. It rained so hard that the water came right through the MEC jacket I was wearing. Vancouver rain would penetrate anything.

(By the way, for those of you on the prairies who might lump Victoria and Vancouver together as soggy cities on the Wet Coast, note that Victoria has exactly half the annual rainfall of Vancouver.)

Anyway, I popped into MEC and pointed out to the man at the Customer Service counter that rain was coming through my rain jacket. "Ah," he said, "we don't make that jacket anymore. I think it's well past it's normal lifespan. This is not a warranty issue." Yes, I know, I was about to say. I quite understand. Thank you.

"Hang on," he said." Let's check it out." He looked at my purchase record. "You bought it in 2005." Fair enough, I was about to say. I've had good use out of it. Thank you.

"Wait," he said. "I see that you paid $110 for it. It cost us about half that. I can offer you a store credit of $40. Then we've still made a slight profit and you're happy."

So that's why I shop at MEC. I like to support local businesses and I do, but when it comes to buying anything that I might want to take back in the future, I shop at MEC.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The terminus is the end of the line.

The terminus is the end of the line. You have to get off the train. And where do you get off? At the station, of course. Where else?

Why then does the Vancouver sky train keep saying, verbally and visually, "Terminus station, Waterfront"? Why not simply, "Terminus, Waterfront." It gets especially annoying when Waterfront is the next station. Then it says, "The next station is Waterfront, terminus station."

Perhaps they think that we need to be reminded that there is a station at the terminus. So that we know we can get off and don't have to stay on the train and go back to where we got on.

(I won’t even rant about why they have to say YVR airport instead of Vancouver Airport.)

Either the people who run these new public transport systems take us for fools, or they themselves belong to a new breed who don't have trams and trains in their blood as I do. I suspect it it's a bit of both.

I remember that when a new electric train service began in Perth, Western Australia, the announcement would say, "The next station stop is Karrakatta." But a station is a stop, I wanted to shout. That's what the word means!

At the time, I tried to think like public transport officialdom. Perhaps the next stop might be at an unexpected halt along the line and they were worried that we might try to get off in mid track. Or that the train might not be stopping at the next station and that we might try to alight as it rushed through at 45 mph.

Eventually common sense prevailed. On my last visit to Perth, I heard to my great satisfaction that the next station was Karrakatta. So I'm hoping that on my next trip into Vancouver on the sky train, Waterfront will be the terminus, not the terminus station.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The great ME vs. MYSELF debate about Jane and her damn coffee

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury makes the odd grammatical mistake. In announcing his resignation this morning, Dr. Rowan Williams thanks his friends and family for their support:

I am abidingly grateful to all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane (Williams' wife) and myself in these years, and all the many diverse parishes and communities in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion that have brought vision, hope and excitement to my own ministry (quoted in the Globe, 16 March 2012).

"Myself", of course, is an emphatic or reflexive pronoun, to be used with the first person subjective pronoun "I" in such sentences as "I myself will attend the meeting" or "I hurt myself". In the paragraph above, the verb "supported" requires the objective case of the first person pronoun, i.e., "me".

Dr. Williams should have alluded to "all those friends and colleagues who have so generously supported Jane and me in these years".

Straightforward enough. But it reminded me of another example which turned out not to be quite so simple.

My son-in-law, Rob, a budding grammarian, had texted me with a question: Should he say,

I made coffee for Jane and myself or I made coffee for Jane and me?

(He's not quite as holy as the archbishop, but his wife, too, is called Jane.)

Without even thinking, I quickly replied that "Jane and myself" was incorrect, and that he should say,

I made coffee for Jane and me.

I referred him to posts I had made in this blog on August 2nd and 15th, 2011, and thought no more about it.

However, he wasn't convinced, and wisely decided to seek a second opinion. He asked another grammarian, a friend of his whom we'll call Tracy, for her thoughts. She decided to consult a couple of linguistics professors. They were only too happy to oblige. Grammarians love this kind of debate. 

Tracy summarised their thoughts as follows. 

Both statements are correct. In fact, two rules are in collision. On one hand, the subject "I" requires the reflexive pronoun "myself". On the other, the preposition "for" demands the objective case "me". In this case of conflicting rules, it comes down to what is more pleasing to the ear. And different ears have different sensitivities. One professor said that if the sentence were "I made coffee for my mother and me/myself" then she would choose "myself" because the sound combination was more pleasing. The other linguist would have chosen "me".

Other editors and grammarians have weighed in as well. Interestingly, the ruling is evenly divided. 

Now had Rob said,

Tom (or Dick or Harry) made coffee for Jane and myself.

then he would clearly have been wrong, despite being in the good company of the Archbishop of Canterbury. So I advised him to stick with "for Jane and me" because in the case under discussion it was certainly correct, and in any other case, he would be wrong to say anything else.

Thanks to Rob for the question, and to Tracy for her contribution and the title of this post.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Bored with

Shame! The Globe should know better than this. In the travel section today, we read:

For people bored of playing war on their video-game systems, the "Seal Team Six" package comes with a semi-automatic rifle so advanced that it can only be named with a series of letters and numbers - the MR556A1....

True, there is no rhyme or reason behind which preposition goes with a particular verb. Thus one may be "tired of", "exhausted from", "fed up with", addicted to", "intrigued by" playing video games. These are idioms we native speakers just know, or should know, and others have to learn, one expression at a time. And, of course, one is bored with something.

Don't they proofread each other's work at the Globe and Mail?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Honorary or honourary?

Baird presents Myanmar's Suu Kyi with honorary Canadian citizenship

blazed the Globe in a headline this morning. Yet on a TV channel the Nobel laureate was granted honourary Canadian citizenship. Which spelling is correct?

We Canadians pride ourselves on our Canadian spelling, and generally overrule the computer spellcheck which tries to subvert it. In the "-our" words we follow the British and not the American practice, in colour, favour, odour, etc., and of course, honour.

So that we have honour and its compounds. Or do we? Honourable, yes, and honouree. But that's where it ends.

As my French teacher used to say in words that ring true in any language:

"Monsieur, il y a toujours les exceptions!"

In honorary and honorarium the "u" is dropped, even in British English.

So this morning the Globe is correct, and the writer for the television news has learned his spelling, "not wisely but too well".

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Also and Nor

"Also" is a very useful adverb meaning "in addition to", and is often used as a transition into a second sentence which adds a further detail:

We ate bacon and eggs for breakfast this morning. We also had coffee.

But it can't be used as a transition between negative sentences. For that, we have the simple and emphatic conjunction "nor".

The Times Colonist makes this mistake in today's edition:

Ultimately, of course, we don't want to pay any more taxes than we need to, and we don't want to see the government run a string of deficits. We also don't want to lose what the government does for us.

This should read:

Ultimately, of course, we don't want to pay any more taxes than we need to, and we don't want to see the government run a string of deficits. Nor do we want to lose what the government does for us.

Update, March 3, 2012

Even the President of the United States makes this error.

I think that the Israel government recognises that, as President of the United States, I don't bluff. I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are (from the Globe).

This is a construction where repetition (of "don't") does not make the statement more emphatic. Consider the impact of the short, sharp "nor":

I think that the Israel government recognises that, as President of the United States, I don't bluff. Nor do I, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are.

Shakespeare knew best how to use this conjunction.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A word about toilet paper

When I was very, very young, I used to get up in the morning and run to the toilet, or "lav" as we called it, at the top of our yard. It was right next to the back lane, providing easy access for the “night cart” men of an earlier epoch. We had modern plumbing, but not modern toilet paper. Instead we used, not the Eaton’s catalogue, but the West Australian or the Daily News, torn carefully into squares threaded on a piece of string hanging on a hook. I remember how thick and tough the newsprint was. And I hate to think what it did to our sensitive skin!

I was thinking about this as I sat in the loo at one of my favourite coffee shops this morning and encountered toilet paper of the other extreme -- soft and thin, too thin if you know what I mean. I wondered how much thought had been given to the comfort of the customer. This is an indelicate topic, I know, but we do spend from nine to twelve months of our life in a loo.

For the most part, toilet paper in public institutions is thin and cheap. It’s all about saving money, of course, but it’s false economy. The rolls may be cheaper, but how long do they last if you have to fold your paper many times for each wipe?

The cheapest toilet paper I’ve ever used was in a Queensland government school in the nineteen seventies. It was non-absorbent, transparently thin, and you had to pull it off the roll by the yard, tear it unevenly for there were no perforations, and fold it into thirteen layers. 

In establishments of quality you may find toilet paper to match. Our friends in France use a product so soft and thick and gentle, that it doesn’t need folding at all.  Visiting their facility is a pleasurable, sensory experience.

But there's no need to go to that extreme. All we expect in our facilities is paper of moderate thickness and absorbency, in plentiful supply! Then we'll continue to patronise the establishment. It's not just the coffee!