National TV Awards

It is very odd to actually find time to watch breakfast tv and to see Piers Morgan taking a swipe at the excellent David Walliams, and – was it also a back-handed swipe at Bradley Walsh as well? I could not be sure. But I was at the event and simply cannot understand where Piers is coming from.

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To be honest, more than that, after I got back to my hotel room late last night, I found myself watching “the Chase” for the first time on tv: what a treat! I couldn’t answer most of the questions, either! And some of those I gamely thought I could answer, I actually got wrong. There was one contestant on screen who plumped for a particular answer and locked it in, only to revise her decision moments later and to confirm what was actually the correct answer. I know how she felt! Oh! And Bradley Walsh is astonishing as the host: it is the kind of performance I enjoy – and warm to. It is a mixture of vulnerability and enthusiasm with also a hint of the dour and playful disdain of Les Dawson at his best – and all in the best possible taste. He is such an engaging personality and his expressions read with an immediacy and openness rarely seen. It is as if we get a first-hand experience of his thought-patterns. He does the same in Dr Who, too! What a treasure he is!

Then there was the “Love Island” contingent. I met Curtis and a few others, but the boys said hello and promptly walked off leaving the girls with me. I liked Maura, but really warmed to Molly Mae Hague – she is a classy, thoughtful girl.

So many other people to think of: Richard and Judy, Michael Palin, Ryan Mark Parsons, John Barrowman (who embarrassingly I did not recognise at all, but that could go for almost everyone there and I am sure they had no idea who I was either!). Ru Paul’s drag Queens were a scream from start to finish, and I had such fun going through the lyrics of “One thrilling combination” and “Mame” with Some Ting Wong. Vivienne is so tall, too!! Oh! and Poor Chris Hughes! Hope he is ok. It has been an education! Many thanks.

 

Nicholas Parsons

It is so sad to read of the death of the great Nicholas Parsons. He has dominated tv and radio for all my life- I remember “sale of the Century” and the “Benny Hill show” with affection when I was little and more recently, I cannot think of a weekend without a fix of “Just a minute”, even doing catch-ups in Moscow and Athens (though Gyles Brandreth took over at least once this summer- he did well, but it was not quite the same, was it?). But, most of all, I also greatly appreciate the fact that he bothered to write to me once about my hero, Edward Lear. He was, indeed, often the person of choice to recite limericks  on the radio and the tv – and his “Owl and the Pussycat” was excellent. With his passing, Lear-o-philes will be the poorer.

I also remember seeing him on stage in the “Rocky Horror” but, particularly, as the narrator in “Into the woods”, popping up at the end of act 1 with a daisy head-dress. I am about to do a programme on radio Fubar about rap and his opening of the Sondheim piece (along with the witch’s rap about vegetables of course) must qualify. It was a brave piece to do and he brought it off with aplomb.

I am not sure anyone has mentioned his Dr Who appearance as a vicar? Or that he took over from Tim Brooke Taylor as rector of St Andrews, my first university? What a wonderful man! Much to be missed.

 

Philip Pullman is wrong

Today, the great Pullman has hit the news over the proposed new 50p piece. He comes in slightly late because Hughie Grant has already gone on record saying it should be boycotted. But Pullman points to the grammar and the absence of what is called “the Oxford comma”.

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The Guardian has run the story and it should know better.

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However, the “oxford comma” is now in the National curriculum. I cannot tell you how often I have fielded calls about this bit of grammar and how irritated it makes me.

Let’s be frank here: the oxford comma, even admitting examples cited in the King James’ Bible, is a modern invention. The KJV is obsessed with the comma, after all. Here is an example from the first edition with a comma that would never be tolerated today:

Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

Indeed, the only comma I would permit in that sentence would be AFTER the word “finger”, yet despite this omission, the KJV has two extra commas that, to me, seem unnecessary.

The KJV also, incidentally, has a tendency to use random italics (as instanced). I believe that any appeal to the use of the comma much before the mid-18th Century is an appeal to punctuation chaos. Much of the time, then, the comma was purely decorative, a typographic twirl.

We did not know about the “oxford comma” until 1978 when Peter Sutcliffe drew attention to it in a review of some of the idiosyncracies of the Oxford University Press (OUP). He suggested that its origins lay in the middle of the 1st World war and that it was introduced to suppress ambiguity when lists were being trotted off.

This seems unnecessary.

When we read aloud, I always assumed a comma denoted a potential breath. I always took a breath before I got to the end of a long list- it seemed appropriate and added drama. However, the older grammar-books all insist that there is never a comma before “and”. And with good reason. (Also, of course, they tell us never to begin a sentence with a conjunction- note TW!) Because the “and” simply signifies that the end of the list is coming. A comma before “and” is, therefore, superfluous because the breath before “and” is understood and assumed. The conjunction is signification enough of how the sentence should be read aloud.

I believe the oxford comma is actually the “Harvard comma” and is first promoted in the style guide for the New York Times. Many examples have been posted that are genuinely made less ambiguous by the insertion of the comma, but frankly a bit of re-phrasing would be better. Look at this example-

“By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.”

It is argued here that the Oxford comma saves Nelson Mandela from the suggestion that he might have been a dildo-collector.  However, with the comma added, he might also yet remain an “800 year old god”, which I think he was not. The only way to salvage this text is, therefore, to re-write it. The text is wrong. It is sloppy writing. The oxford comma, in other words, is about inadequacy and a lame attempt to fix an error. It is a desperate attempt to justify bad english. The Oxford comma is not ours, it is not necessary and the Royal mint is quite right to ignore it.

As for the proposed 50p piece, I certainly never wanted it, but if it promotes debate about perverse and frankly foreign punctuation, then it is a coin I will henceforth treasure.

Bring it on!

 

 

After writing this, I sent a brief letter to the Daily telegraph which they printed. I am reproducing it here-

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Just a final point here:

The text on the 50p piece is a variation on the speech delivered by President Thomas Jefferson in 1801 at his inaugural address. Note that the “Harvard comma” is quite rightly in place as this is an American speech. The word “commerce” is replaced by the more alliterative “prosperity”, so it is a shame, given that the Royal mint was adapting the text fairly freely, that a third word beginning with “p” could not be found to complete a good tricolon (I can appreciate the problem, of course- partiality, predeliction – the greeks might have used “philotimo” – better to have started with another letter: accord, abundance and affection, for example). Tellingly, however, we have lost both the “comma” and the word “honest” in the process of developing and circulating the commemorative coin. No one seems to have remarked on the loss of that word, though. I would have thought that the loss of “honesty” was surely greater than the loss of a comma.

“I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none;…”

Scottish independence

Nicola Sturgeon’s call for INDYREF 2 has been rejected again as was probably to be predicted. What is now important, though, is not the rhetoric from the First Minister which is impressive as ever, but what Westminster will do to convince Edinburgh that the Union is robust and worthwhile. If Scotland feels unloved, then it is up to Boris to demonstrate clearly that that is not the case.

It is worth noting how much the Uk has depended on Scottish statesmen and women and on Scottish businesses over the last 250 years. In Westminster, I think there have been at least 10 Scottish prime ministers (12 if we count David Cameron as Scottish and bother to note that Gordon Brown’s tenure took place * see below). For our economy, we can go back to Adam Smith and William Paterson, endless advances in medicine as well as the first country to educate women as doctors (though they never actually got their degrees)- think Sir James Y Simpson, Alexander Fleming, James Braid, even Arthur Conan Doyle; for transport, we look to Thomas Telford, but even when it comes to basic transport, it was the Scot, Kirkpatrick Macmillan, who invented the bicycle and meanwhile it was the Scottish law in 1772 which dictated that we all drive routinely on the left, some 60 years before it became a law in England. Alexander Bell! Oh for goodness’ sake! Even when I was looking at the development of radar in Daventry a few years’ ago, it was still a Scot, Robert Watson-Watt, who did it!

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“Tories are terrified of Scotland’s right to choose – because they know that when given the choice we’ll choose independence.

“Tories have no positive case for the union – so all they can do is attempt to deny democracy. It will not stand.

“The problem for the Tories is the longer they try to block democracy, the more they show the Westminster union is not one of equals and fuel support for independence. This response [is] predictable – but also unsustainable and self defeating. Scotland will have the right to choose.

“Scottish government will set out our response and next steps before the end of this month – when we will also again ask Scottish Parliament to back Scotland’s right to choose our own future.”

*list of scottish prime ministers in UK

John Stuart 1762

George Hamilton Gordon 1852

William Gladstone 1864, 1880, 1886, 1892

Lord Rosebery 1894

Arthur Balfour 1902

Henry Bannerman 1906

Andrew Bonar Law 1922

James Ramsey MacDonald 1924, 1929

Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home 1963

Tony Blair 1997

Gordon Brown 2007

David Cameron 2010

 

 

 

 

The US Circle

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Just about to do the final Podcast for the US circle. What a pleasure watching these 12 episodes. The joy of watching Shubham telling us that social media is the bubonic  plague of modern times.  The guy who doesn’t know flirting or emojis. I felt a distinct connection with him and sent him an email immediately!!

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Boris the submariner

Today Boris explained to Dan Walker that he was surfacing through the ice as a submarine. Bizarre. Colourful and typically Boris! “The submarine is crashing through the ice floes. The conning tower is emerging through the ice floes right now. Here I am. I gave two press conferences yesterday. I want to be as available as I possibly can.” (not on holiday as you can see)

About extradition from the US: “I’ll be clear with you, the chances of America responding by sending Anne Sacoolas to this country are very low. That’s not what they do,”

Brexit: “Bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”/ with trade deals “epically likely”

About FLYBE: “It’s not for government to step in and save companies that simply run into trouble.People will understand that there are limits commercially to what a government can do to rescue any particular firm. But what we will do is ensure we have the regional connectivity that this country needs. That is part of our agenda of uniting and levelling up.”

Harry and Megan: absolutely confident they will manage “much more easily without running commentary from politicians”

The North: giving “people the chances to exploit their talents.”

Iran nuclear deal: “If we’re going to get rid of it, let’s replace it with the Trump deal. That’s what we need to see. President Trump is a great dealmaker by his own account and many others.”

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Alex Hobern from The Circle Series 1

Last week, I went to see Alex who won the first season of the Circle. We made a few videos each, the first part of mine I have just uploaded here.

Alex tested me on acronyms and I was fairly useless. It follows on from an exchange I had in the Circle with Woody. Alex’s video is here:

 

Here is my drawing of Alex:

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