What this blog is for and about

I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

Remember: all pictures can be expanded to full page size by clicking on them.


27 May 2016

TS Eliot spots George Orwell's real problem

A fascinating article about TS Eliot's reason for rejecting Orwell's Animal Farm for publication in 1944.
Eliot's reasons seem to me to be sound, especially his observation that the wall-to-wall negativity of Orwell's novelistic vision (I have read all his novels, but enjoyed them only for the amusing extremes of negativity - except 1984 which I hated from cover to cover, however true it obviously all is) is not just depressing, but fundamentally untrue. Life has bright spots as well as dark ones. Orwell's essays are full of light and humour as well as biting criticism. They are brilliant. I still re-read some of them from time to time. But somehow his novels are one-dimensional and almost bitter. It does not surprise me that T.S. Eliot spotted this immediately. Old Possum may have been a bit of a cad, especially where his wife was concerned, but he was certainly a bright cad.

Digitised for the first time by the British Library, Eliot’s rejection is now available to read alongside others including Virginia Woolf’s to James Joyce

26 May 2016

Berry Gordy, Motown and the symphony the Supremes once heard....

A fabulous programme which illustrates the great, eternal truth that gumption and generosity of spirit usually go together. When they do (and only when they do) great creativity can result.
I especially recommend listening to the story of the song that was chosen as the best of the eight. I won't say what it is, but fifty years after I first heard it, it still makes me want to get up and dance, or weave off down the street singing it to myself and the astonished passers-by: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07bt72r

Kirsty Young interviews Berry Gordy, record producer and creator of the Motown label.

24 May 2016

My YouTube videos

Here is a little distraction from the business of writing well, thinking clearly and organising the world to one's own satisfaction.

I have started to make some videos of cycling, the first three of which (only two available so far) are about Campbeltown, where I live when I am in Scotland (alas, not often enough). More will follow about Russia, where, for the moment, I live for the rest of the time.

Below are links to the first two (done with almost no understanding of how to operate my camera and software, but I am gradually getting that under control!):

Sunday morning in Campbeltown

Out to the party cave

More to follow in due course.

In the meantime: enjoy!

20 May 2016

The benefits of slavery: a Scottish view

"A man's a man for a' that..." 
It is always nice to hear the true voice of a culture in clear song. Here is an example of that principle as it applied to Scotland in Napoleonic times - not that many years after, it should be remembered, Rabbie Burns, the people's poet, had signed up to become an overseer on a slave plantation in the West Indies.

This is an article from the Edinburgh Review of 1805 about a book published by a French lawyer on St Domingo (known today as Haiti) in which the advantages of slavery for the negro are carefully considered in the light of the widespread French horror of equality which set in after the excesses of the Revolution.

In the time of the great Scottish Enlightenment, it is worth remembering that an article like this can start with the following endorsement:

"On looking into this work, we were delighted to find that it contained what we had long been extremely desirous to see, a fair, open and avowed eulogism upon slavery, with a manful and consistent vindication of the slave trade, founded upon an explicit statement of those principles which must necessarily be adopted by its supporters, but which so few of them, among us, can be brought to acknowledge."

One Scot criticising other Scots' hypocrisy: nothing new in that!


By the way, I discovered this article in a reference contained in one of the most interesting books about slavery written recently: "Slavery and Human Progress", by the great Professor David Brion Davis, of Yale University.

Roosevelt and Churchill reappraised by real experts

A fascinating programme by two respectable,
serious but appropriately iconoclastic (or at least icononeutral) historians on the subject of the wartime leadership of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.

There are several new insights from the latest books the two have published on the subject. And I should add that one of the historians, Nigel Hamilton, wrote one of the best books ever about the US presidency: "American Caesars". He was also the official biographer of "Monty". The other guy seems to know what he is talking about too, but he is new to me as a historian. Together they give a thought-provoking account of the way the war was run at the highest level.


Incidentally, you can see Nigel Hamilton talking about "American Caesars" at the link below. It includes a long description of the amazing story of Franklin Roosevelt's love affair with Lucy Mercer, with whom he found true companionship after discovering that his wife, Eleanor, was a lemon-faced puritan who was into "good causes", virtue and all the tedium of the of the world improver (unlike her husband who simply wanted to save it from Hitler).


12 May 2016

Green economics: Schumacher and the revolution that has yet to happen

An interesting programme about Ernst Schumacher, the "small is beautiful" economist of the 1960s and '70s. I remember hearing him lecture when I was at University,. I could nnot help wondering why such a polite man would want  to spend his life working fo the National Coal Board.

He was hardly listened to then, and is not much listened to now. But some people think that ought, change, and might just be changing as we speak (of Michelangelo - with he women who come and go).

E F Schumacher

My first GoPro video: bicycles rule!

Campbeltown on a sunny Sunday morning

This will be part of my historical research and communication programme once I get back to Moscow, so I am trying it out here.

This one is completely unedited because I have not yet figured out how to edit, only how to film and upload. But that will come soon, I hope!

Campbeltown on Sunday from the bike