River, River

I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
I wish I had a river I could skate away on
I made my baby cry

‘River’, Joni Mitchell

Watching Robson Green walking coast-to-coast along Hadrian’s Wall (a journey I made in September 2019) I was struck by the incongruity of him spending an afternoon fly-fishing on the River North Tyne. It’s not that he obviously did not carry a set of waders and a fishing pole in his rucksack, it was the name of the river he waded into.

Something sounded so wrong. I’ve spent too long in the States.

Why River North Tyne and not North Tyne River? I had no problem with River Tyne, River Thames, or River Avon. It was the three words in that order that jarred.

Then, a sudden realization, American’s *always* put River after the name, the British before.

It sounds equally wrong to say River Mississippi, River Columbia, or River Sacramento as it does to say Thames River, Avon River, or Tyne River. Just not, to my ears, River North Tyne.

Likewise, who gets to decide when to call a watercourse The Mississppi, The Thames, or The North Tyne?

Then there’s Thamesside, Tyneside, and Humberside. But not Mississippiside, which just has one too many s’s in it.

The Banks are, however, agnostic to culture. The Banks of the Mississippi and the Banks of the Tyne both work–unlike the Royal Bank of Scotland which plainly didn’t.

Divided by a common language

Fortunately, smarter people than me have looked into why this is, even though it is, in the end, a mystery:

Once upon a time, river names in English usually included the word “of.” So instead of “River Jordan” (in modern British usage) or “Jordan River” (in American usage), you would have found “River of Jordan” (written something like “rywere of Iordane”).

Many of the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citations for names of rivers, dating from the late 1300s, include “of.” Chaucer in 1395, for example, wrote of “the ryuer of Gysen.”

This practice of including “of” in river names, the OED says, wasn’t the only way of naming rivers, but it was “the predominant style before the late 17th cent.”

At that point, “of” began to drop out of river names, and British and American practices started to diverge.

In proper names, the word “river” commonly came first in Britain, but last in the American Colonies. In other words, most English speakers simply dropped “of,” but Americans reversed the word order as well.

While “river” has occasionally appeared at the end in British writing, this was “uncommon,” the OED says. Most of Oxford’s citations for “river” in last place are from the mid-1600s and after, and most are from North American sources.

As things now stand, the OED explains, the word “river” appears first “chiefly in British English referring to British rivers and certain other major, historically important rivers, as the Nile, Rhine, Ganges, etc.”

In North American usage, however, “river” comes at the end except sometimes in “certain other major, historically important rivers” like the ones mentioned above.

But we haven’t addressed the question “Why?” Why does usage differ in Britain and America? Why did the Colonists prefer “James River” and “Charles River” to the reverse?

We can’t answer that. But certainly, the style adopted by the Colonists wasn’t unknown in the mother country.

Source: Grammarphobia

Books Reviewed: How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig and Forever, by Pete Hamill

(Full disclosure: Matt is the nephew of my good friend James Haig. I heard Matt speak at a recent Marin County bookstore where I purchased his book. I’ve not read any of his other writing, but see from Twitter that he has a large and loyal fan base. It was Matt who told me that he was not aware of the 2003 Pete Hamill novel on the subject of immortality and that he’d never visited Arizona before writing the book.)

How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time CoverI enjoyed English author Matt Haig’s latest novel How to Stop Time not only for the wonderfully evocative portrait of the many different historical periods, but for the way these are woven together into a believable whole in the protagonist Tom’s life.

Haig does this in so many ways, one example being the close of the main para on p. 325 which takes us “back down the path from where we came…as sycamore seeds spin and fall in this same forest.”

I enjoyed the focus on the interior life of the protagonist as much as the exterior events. And the subtle digs at our current crazy political situation.

While he writes stunning prose, Haig is obviously a poet at heart. The two sentences at the bottom of p.313 describing the world that remains after the death of one of the characters took my breath away.

This is a wonderful book, hugely enjoyable.


Forever - CoverIronically, the author claims not to be aware of Pete Hamill’s Forever: A Novel which would be a fine companion read.

There are many differences between the two novels, but they share a common theme. Hamill takes over 250 pages before his protagonist is granted a life many times longer than the usual span. Haig’s character is born with a rare condition shared by others.

Tom Hazard is free to wander the world, and one of the joys of Haig’s book is not only the way he evokes different times, but also multiple locations: Paris, the South Seas, London and New York. One of the conditions of Cormac O’Connor’s life, once he’s made into an immortal, is that he can never leave Manhattan. So he watches as New York grows from the tiny pre-Revolutionary settlement into the 21st century metropolis. The world changes around Cormac, while for Tom changes in latitudes fill the decades.

Both men have to deal with the challenge of outlasting the generations of people they live among. This begins early on for Tom when he escapes superstitious 17th Century witch-hunters and it drives him on his travels to distant lands.

Cormac is a witness to the excesses of New York: the violence, jails, brothels, plagues, Tammany Hall. Hamill relishes the tide of history that sweeps over New York, especially Irish New York.

In the modern world Tom becomes a history teacher, while Cormac tells people he’s “a kind of historian” (p. 482). Both men must be careful not to reveal too much about the past eras they in fact lived through.

Both also deal with the psychological burden of ageless living. Cormac’s “mind felt like sludge…his body felt young, and looked young, but his brain felt ancient.” (p.393) Tom Hazard suffers from debilitating headaches that mark the challenge of endless life:

“The longer you live, the harder it becomes…Forever, Emily Dickinson said, is composed of nows. But how do you inhabit the now you are in? How do you stop the ghosts of all the other nows from getting in? … The memories swell. The headaches grow.” (p. 19)

Cormac is clearly Hamill’s alter ego: an Irish-American reporter in New York. He writes about the city he knows so well, in a similar way that Woody Allen’s Manhattan is a tribute to his insider knowledge of the Big Apple.

Both authors examine the peculiar challenges of relationships with women and children who have ageless lovers and fathers. Both employ the trope of the challenge of love outlasting the passage of time:

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
Shakespeare – Sonnet 116

Tom Hazard is a vehicle for Haig’s research into different eras and locations. He confessed to having written about Arizona (very convincingly) before ever visiting it. But there again, neither he nor Hamill visited past times, except in their imaginations.

What price immortality?

Both of these novels are sobering checks on the wishes of some of the more outlandish desires of Silicon Valley billionaires to achieve immortality:

Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, plans to live to be 120. Compared with some other tech billionaires, he doesn’t seem particularly ambitious. Dmitry Itskov, the “godfather” of the Russian Internet, says his goal is to live to 10,000; Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, finds the notion of accepting mortality “incomprehensible,” and Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, hopes to someday “cure death.” These titans of tech aren’t being ridiculous, or even vainglorious; their quests are based on real, emerging science that could fundamentally change what we know about life and about death.

As Adi Da Samraj has written:

“Fear of death is fear of surrender to Infinity. Learn to surrender, to exist at Infinity while alive, and fear of death dissolves. Fear of death is fear of the Unknown. Realize the Wonder, the Eternal Unknowability of the Totality of Existence, and fear of death is transcended.”

A blast from the past: The influence of the wealthy in politics

Trump_FamilyDipping into past blog posts I came across my 2006 comments on the cultural differences between Japan, Australia and the US around attitudes toward the wealthy.

While the Japanese hammer down the nails that stick up, to enforce conformity, and the Australians whack their tall poppies, Americans are famous for their adulation of the wealthy.

In the comments to that original post I added a 2008 article by FT columnist (now Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs) Chrystia Freeland, who detected changing attitudes to the super-rich wishing to enter politics as revealed by then-attitudes to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg “flirting with an independent bid for the White House for months. By and large, New Yorkers have been indulgent, but this week brought a chorus of scoldings, some of them directly aimed at his extraordinary fortune.”

She concluded by speculating that the mood in the US was moving toward condemnation of the wealthy, and asks us to:

Consider Donald Trump, who has built new a career as a media celebrity by assuming the persona of an obnoxious yet somehow admirable billionaire. Now, though, the mood is changing.

That was then.

Let’s welcome more refugees to America!

Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
— Bob Dylan, The Chimes of Freedom

Upwardly Global ReportAs I’ve previously posted immigration, legal or otherwise, is the lifeblood of the United States. Refugees form an important source of immigrants who are often among the least understood, most victimized and yet most valuable additions to a society. Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled more than three million refugees. Consider the role of some these refugees and the way they helped make America great:

  • Andy Grove, Hungarian refugee, founder of Intel currently valued at $203 billion.
  • Jan Koum, Ukrainian refugee, founder of WhatsApp which in 2014 was purchased by Facebook for $22 billion.
  • Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian refugee, co-founder of Apple, currently valued at $900 billion.

This information is from an important new report from Upwardly Global that highlights the role of refugees in America and reviews both their successes, as well as barriers to integration they face.

The foremost barrier, not surprisingly, sits in the White House. The report notes:

The U.S. refugee policy overhaul in 2017 marks a fundamental shift in how the U.S. allows people to enter the country at a time when 65.6 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced, including 22.5 million refugees. In September, the White House announced plans to cap the number of refugees the U.S. will accept in 2018 at 45,000, the lowest number since the current U.S. refugee admissions system was established in 1980.

This policy ignores the fact that accepting refugees is not only a humanitarian and legal obligation, but an investment that leads to long-term socioeconomic benefits. Investing in skilled refugee workforce integration yields tremendous benefits for our economy and communities. In 2016, Upwadly Global helped 247 refugees secure full-time professional jobs with an average income of $47,000 – resulting in these individuals lifting themselves out of poverty and become economic contributors.

Let’s not turn our back on the global need to resettle refugees. Let’s do something that will really make America great again and welcome more refugees to America!

To find out more, read the full report.

Book Review: Disrupted, by Dan Lyons

Disputed Book Cover People in Limerick like to point out that Angela’s Ashes is more a story of Frank McCourt’s life in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father than it is about growing up in the Ireland of the 1930s. I’d like to point out that Dan Lyons has written more of a story about one dysfunctional and bizarre company in Boston than any ‘trenchant analysis of the start-up world’ in general.

I can claim to know what I speak of, since I’ve spent my entire career in Silicon Valley and I’m a good decade older than Dan, working in a company where many, but not all, of the employees are half my age. There’s nothing remotely similar to his experiences at HubSpot in the various marketing departments I’ve worked in.

How the mighty have fallen

Perhaps because I did not come from as a rarefied an environment as he did working for Pulitzer Prize winners and interviewing Bill Gates, I’ve never been discombobulated by the generational differences that keep Dan awake at night.

Unlike Dan, I walk to work every day past the Salesforce Tower without thinking of Marc Benioff’s genitalia.

I can converse with younger workers who are the age of my own kids without feeling demeaned by the experience.

I take pride in writing blog postings and managing social media (despite my advanced age…) for the various organizations I’ve worked for.

Bursting the bubble

That said, Lyons does get it right in his broader analysis of the tech world, specifically his telling critique of the well-funded software start-ups that are currently burning through the VC’s cash with abandon. Just this morning I heard a radio program about the dozens and dozens of new companies offering Parking Apps. How many will be around a year from now? These may well become the poster children for the coming collapse of the new tech companies just as pets.com and others were for the first dot-com bust.

Ageism in the software industry

Likewise, he’s got a point about ageism in tech. After all, Mark Zukerberg did say that young people are just smarter and the thin disguise of hiring for ‘cultural fit’ often results in clones of the founders filling the cubes. But just as guilty are the recruiters for trading floors and venture capital companies.


At the end of the day it’s obvious that Lyons was happier vaping cannabis oil on the west coast than eating humble pie back east. He’s one of the gang on the Sony lot in Culver City working with a team that he admits engaged in ‘trading the worst poop-related stories we’ve ever heard, and pitching jokes about enormous cocks’. One can only wonder if the culture shock he experienced at HubSpot would pale in comparison to someone whose not pickled in the same journalistic brine that formed him trying to hold their own in that environment.

Perhaps the best solution would have been for him to bond over a bong with the youngsters in the start-up, ensuring a mellow time for one and all.

Slow Train Coming

Writing in the Weekend FT, Matthew Engel highlights the benefits of modern railway systems and notes that the UK and US both have their unique limitations.

The British invented the railways and spread them across the world. I grew up in the rail town of Crewe, which was always considered something of a joke, as depicted in the 19th Century music hall song Oh! Mr. Porter

Oh! Mr Porter, what shall I do?
I want to go to Birmingham
And they’re taking me on to Crewe,
Send me back to London, as quickly as you can,
Oh! Mr Porter, what a silly girl I am.

Many in Britain have had the experience of changing trains on Crewe Station. A select few call the town of 60,000 their home. It’s been in decline since the locomotive works closed and Rolls-Royce motors moved (although luxury Bentley’s are still manufactured there).

High Speed Network planned

However, plans are afoot to change the whole basis of a Victorian rail network trying to compete with French TGV’s and Japanese and Chinese bullet trains.

Engel notes it is facing an uphill struggle:

HS2, the planned multibillion pound, 170mph high-speed line from London to the north that is the government’s pet project, is almost universally derided. The concept is indeed flawed — it offers too few useful connections with existing lines — but on all current projections it is essential, not for its extra speed but for the extra capacity to deal with record numbers of passengers.

The local Crewe newspaper recently announced that a £5bn HS2 “super hub” station will be built in Crewe. It’s slated to open in 2027 and will help deliver more than 120,000 new jobs and see over 100,000 new homes built across the region. Anyone wanting to enjoy the bucolic Cheshire countryside would be advised to do so while it remains.

Crewe HS2 Station

Good Morning, America, How Are You?

The rail network in the US is quite different. As generations of hobos and Matthew Engel have noted:

..the 140,000 miles of railroad are synonymous with freight trains, which still play a major part in the US economy. Indeed, outside the Amtrak-owned Boswash corridor, the freight companies own the tracks: if there is a question of priority, it’s the passengers who are likely to get shunted into a siding. (This is almost exactly the opposite to the UK, where freight traffic has always been marginal and is now in decline yet again, because of the closure of coal-fired power stations, the withdrawal of biomass subsidies, and the collapse of the domestic steel industry.)

Plans to launch high-speed trains between LA and San Francisco and cities a similar distance apart in Texas and the North East, are, like Britain’s HS2 plans, being measured in decades, not years.

All of this is in stark contrast to the rail network in China where over 10,000 miles of track serves over 2.5 million riders.The 800+ mile journey from Beijing to Shanghai takes just 5 hours.

Engel concludes:

A successful public transport system is a national benefit. William Gladstone understood this in Victorian times; Japan, China and most of western Europe accept it explicitly. For much of the world, the past 40 years have indeed been the second age of the train. British politicians get the point implicitly but execute policy furtively and cack-handedly; only American Republicans are visceral and obstructive deniers.

Guest Posting – Fog City vs. The Big Smoke: what a year in San Francisco has taught me, by Felicity H. Barber

Felicity H. BarberFelicity H. Barber is a speechwriter, executive communications specialist and coach. She write speeches, advises business leaders on messaging and coaches people to deliver stellar presentations and pitches. Before moving to San Francisco from London she was an in-house speechwriter at Lloyd’s of London, the global insurer. She wrote speeches and prepared business executives for presentations, panel discussions and conferences all around the world. And, she once wrote a book presented as a gift to HM The Queen. This posting appears with her express permission.

It’s exactly a year since I waved goodbye to family, friends and a stable job as an in-house speechwriter in London’s Square Mile (the city’s financial center). On 31 July 2015 I stepped off the plane, into the San Francisco fog and started a new life as a freelance speechwriter and communications consultant in Silicon Valley.

After twelve months working in the world’s high-tech mecca I want to share some of the biggest differences between doing business in Fog City and the Big Smoke.

Everyone has a side hustle

When I told people at home I was planning on becoming a solo entrepreneur in San Francisco most of them thought I was mad. My friends were in agreement: moving to a new country and setting up a business can both be done, but are best not attempted at the same time! Nonetheless, I persevered: I networked, I blogged, I got on the social media bandwagon, and eventually I won my first client, then another, and another. I put my success down to my passion for what I do, dogged determination, but also how positive the Bay Area culture is about entrepreneurs. Everyone here has a start-up, a freelance gig or a side hustle. As a result there are systems here to support new ventures, whether that’s incubators, angel investors or co-working spaces. What’s perhaps even more important is that the ‘home of the free’ is also the land of innovation: there’s a willingness to try what’s untested. It doesn’t matter that you’re new in town; most of the people you meet here came from somewhere else and were new themselves once. They will give you a go and if they like you they’ll keep coming back for more.

Things move at lightening speed

I spent the first few years of my career in the public and charity sector. It will be no surprise to you to hear that things moved s l o w l y. In 2012 I decided it was time I experienced what life was like in the private sector, or the ‘real world’ as my civil service friends affectionately called it. I took a job at the insurer Lloyd’s of London. The move was one of the best I’ve ever made. I worked with some wonderful people and learned a ton, but the cogs of specialist insurance don’t exactly turn at breakneck speed either. This is in huge contrast to the lightening pace of business in the Bay Area. In the UK I’ve waited weeks to hear back after a job interview; in San Francisco I’ve pitched for business on a Monday and had a contract signed on Tuesday. The change of pace is refreshing, but it does mean that you need to be ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. Slow coaches need not apply.

Get used to a new dress code

In my corporate office in London I was constantly tripping on my heels, tugging down my skirt or looking for a reasonable dry cleaner for my dresses. This is not a problem in the Bay Area! As I do 90% of my work from home I can of course work in my birthday suit if I so choose! (Indeed, there are reported cases of Silicon Valley workers doing just that.) However, I prefer to greet the day and my work fully clothed. Even when I go to a client’s office I leave my heels at home. San Francisco is decidedly more casual that London. Not everyone goes for the Zuckerberg jeans and T-shirt combo, but you’re probably safe to ditch your tie and swap your crisp, white shirt for a plaid one.

Sometimes when I’m at a clients’ office sitting around on beanbags, it must be said, I miss the formality of London. But the entrepreneurial spirit, the give-anything-a-go-once attitude, and the quick pace all make the Bay Area a fantastic place to do business.

Book Review: The Speechwriter, by Barton Swaim

In a book that is in part the machinations of The Good Wife and in part the political farce of Yes Minister, Barton Swaim shares insights he gained into the life of a speechwriter during the second term of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.

Mark Sanford The author of The Speechwriter does not dwell on the series of unfortunate events that led to the downfall of the governor of South Carolina. For those who need to validate the details, it’s all in Wikipedia.

In the end, it was all part of the rich tapestry of American political life: a moralizing public figure is betrayed by peccadillos that would not be worthy of comment in many countries. However, the public delights in destroying, if only temporarily, the careers of its leaders. Sanford survives to live out his term, leaving the speechwriter to edit his form letters and remove references to ‘family’, ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’ and, of course, ‘Argentina’.

This speechwriter’s lot was not a happy one. Swaim captures the arc of his career in excruciating detail. From initial enthusiasm and surprise that he was to become the chief wordsmith to a sitting governor where ‘the idea of turning phrases for a living seemed irresistible’, to despair at his lot and envy of the janitorial staff in the government buildings who were happy just checking lightbulbs for a living. He dreaded going into the office and the strain of the job was almost unbearable.

What went wrong?

The Speechwriter After an all-to-brief honeymoon period, Swaim discovered the ‘stark difference’ between the charming public persona of the governor and the realities of dealing with the man in private. His boss has a unique relationship with the English language that deeply offends the writer with the PhD in English. He copes by creating a list of stock phrases that mimic the ‘voice’ of the man he’s writing for. He uses phrases such as ‘in large measure’ and ‘frankly’ to pad speeches, op-eds, letters and other written communications that are an endless demand on his time. As is typical, he’s responsible for much more than speeches. He regularly produces four or five options of each speech for the governor to review, and learns to keep one in reserve for the times all his written drafts are thrown back at him.

The governor berates him with requests to re-do speeches ‘again’ and returns drafts with terse demands that they ‘need work’. Despite his best efforts, he’s often the butt of withering scorn.

However, Swaim has the insight that none of this is meant personally. He highlights the sheer volume of communication a politician must generate, and points out that people

…don’t know what it’s like to be expected to make comments, almost every working day, on things of which they have little or no reliable knowledge or about which they just don’t care.

Cork Bored

The need for the governor to heap abuse on the speechwriter had nothing to do with being hurtful:

For him to try to hurt you would have required him to acknowledge your significance. If you were on his staff, he had no knowledge of your personhood … he was giving vent to his own anxieties, whatever they were. It was as if you were one of those pieces of cork placed in the mouth of wounded soldiers during an amputation. The soldier didn’t chew the work because he hated it but because it was therapeutic to bite hard. Often I felt like that piece of cork.

That is not what I meant, at all

As a record of the daily life of a speechwriter this account rang all too true. My own experience in corporate America has often mirrored the account Swaim presents of speechwriting in the political arena. The one major difference being that very few corporate leaders have to communicate as frequently as politicians. However, there can be the same demands for endless revisions, fact checking of obscure points and navigation of outsized egos as Swaim describes. The role of speechwriter as alchemist, ploughman, and motley fool has not changed since attendant lords, full of high sentence, advised princes of power in Medieval times.

My one beef with the book is that it lives up to its subtitle as ‘A Brief Education in Politics’ and is too short. Mark Sanford has since gone on to be re-elected to Congress for South Carolina’s 1st District. Just as much of the intrigue of The Good Wife happens after the initial fall, so I can’t help but wonder what sort of a book the current speechwriter to Congressman Sanford might write. A sequel surely awaits.

Book Review: Cold Cream, by Ferdinand Mount

Cold Cream CoverA memoir by a shy and retiring British aristocrat with the unlikely title Cold Cream: My Early Life and Other Mistakes would not usually grab my attention, or warrant a review in this blog.

However, Ferdinand “Ferdy” Mount’s autobiography is a delightful book filled with tales of a vanished world. He grew up a member of the British upper class. His family was never wealthy, but he was in line for a Baronetcy and they had enough money to send him to private schools and on to Eton and Oxford. Throughout his life, relatives, friends and acquaintances saw to it that Ferdy was alright. His career required “the oxygen of influence” from members of the Establishment who take care of their own. After working as a children’s nanny and gossip columnist, he did a stint as a leader writer on the now defunct newspaper the Daily Sketch. Following his time as a newspaperman, Ferdy then spent a few haphazard years assisting various Conservative Party politicians with reports and considered running for Parliament in a half-hearted way.

Margaret Thatcher

Then, out of the sky blue yonder, on p. 281 of his life story, the phone rings:

By the time Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister I had long ago abandoned any thought of a political career and had happily settled for a life of writing anything that came to hand or mind. So it was a total surprise when her economic adviser Alan Walters rang up on 3 March 1982 and asked whether I would care to come and work for her.

He’s offered the job of running the policy unit and Number Ten Downing Street.

Mount comments “…I had never run anything and had zero experience of the workings of government.” Not a concern to the Iron Lady.

It transpired on meeting Mrs. Thacher that there was a fundamental misunderstanding: he thought of himself as a policy wonk, she hired him as a speech writer. Oh well, thinks Ferdy, “…I suppose many marriages have started on a worse basis.”

His description of life inside Number Ten is astute and hilarious. The strategic position of the gents loo allows cabinet ministers respite from their colleagues. He details where Dennis Thatcher keeps his golf clubs, how the residence of the Prime Minister was accessible via a back stairway where he could slip last minutes notes in the PM’s briefing boxes late at night, where the Downing Street cat sleeps. He confirms the accuracy of the way the Civil Service is portrayed in the BBC series Yes Minister.

Speechwriting at Number Ten

Mount reveals the “full horror” of the speechwriting process in preparing for major events.

The first draft I served up was there simply to be torn up and binned, while she began to think what she might actually want to say.

Politicians would submit jokes for his consideration. They were ignored.

Eccentric members of the ruling class would offer suggestions for speech content, including one who “sported a thin Mafioso moustache and grubby tennis shoes under a pinstripe suit (who) claimed to have a squad of West Indians on roller skates whom at a moment’s notice he could despatch all over London to find out what word on the street was…”

In addition to speech content, Mrs. T. needed coaching in delivery:

Her ear was unfailingly tinny and, though she could be devastating and inspiring in unscripted harangues, the sight of a written text would make her freeze. Even though the words might have been of her own devising…at first reading they would fall lifeless from her lips.

A “portly, fruity” playwright “redolent of the old West End” was there to advise on delivery:

‘Come on, darling, they want you to show you really feel it.’ She would look at him, bewildered but dutiful, the novice on her first engagement in rep.

Preparing her address to the annual Conservative party conference in a year when she was not challenged for leadership (that would come later) bemused Mount. Thatcher spent 18 hours preparing “for the one speech in the year in which she was assured of receiving a rapturous standing ovation.”

The final version of the speech contains none of his “smart phrases” but has the conventional “more direct, brutal way of putting things that she felt comfortable with.”

He acknowledges that speeches like this are where politicians focus their energy because they are about the “mechanics of getting and holding power.”

The humble manner in which Mount tells of his time in the corridors of power make this a delightful read and a lesson in the many ways speechwriters can function. Recommended.

Pink Paper, Purple Prose

FT LogoThe Weekend FT continues to delight with unexpected and refreshing views.

I’ve noticed before that, unlike any American newspaper I know of, it has no problem using explicatives when the context calls for them.

The latest example is Sarah Churchwell’s article on censorship at the cinema.

She notes that The Wolf of Wall Street

“…is the sweariest mainstream film in cinema history, with some viewers counting as many as 569 audible instances of the word “fuck” over its three-hour duration.”

What’s remarakble about the article is that the FT prints the word as above, not as “f**k” or “the F-word” or even “the f-bomb” as most American newspapers would.

Indeed, the article quotes the word eight times (including “motherfucker” and “fucker”) and a search on the ft.com site reveals a rich store of articles on a variety of topics that include ‘fuck’ in the text.

Personally, I find it refreshing (even fucking amazing!) that a word the majority of FT readers use on a daily basis (pace The Wolf of Wall Street, those who work on trading desks in finance perhaps more than most) is not censored from the pink ‘uns pages.

What this says about the laws governing the press in the UK vs. the USA, the Puritanical roots of American culture, and the decline of Western civilization, I leave for my blog readers to comment on.