Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Archive for the category “Words”

Ken’s pants


Had to share a fabulous example of twisted kid’s language given to me by my lovely friend Amanda…

Her sister’s family used to holiday down in Cornwall, and the long car journey was punctuated by her niece Molly proclaiming, “We’re going to Ken’s pants! We’re going to Ken’s pants!”

I’m never going to think of Penzance the same way again…

Thanks, Molly.


The importance of dash placement

The Economist


Thanks to The Economist, for demonstrating how an unfortunately placed dash can change the thrust of a story…

Mistakes like this are why I always try to insist on seeing my signed-off copy on the page (whether digital or printed) before it’s published.

It’s particularly frustrating when clients tinker with signed-off copy at the last moment, as a ‘tiny change’ can so easily throw a line or a paragraph out of whack.


out of the mouths of bébés…

anouka cat

“Je vais faire de bruite très calme, car j’aime le bruit très calme1.”  The musings of a French romantic poet? Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier or Alfred de Musset, perhaps? No. The musings of a three-year old.

With her French artist / yoga teacher mother and English sax player father, the odds were high that Noukie (now nine) would be quirky and artistic. But her idiosyncratic, artistic, and at times esoteric take on the world seems more profound than that.

Seeing the dusty body of a pigeon lying in the gutter, its blue-grey feathers ruffling in the wind, she said “il est cassé, le pigeon” (it is broken, the pigeon): as though it were a broken toy she could no longer play with. Then, taking Pascale’s hand, she asked calmly, “Parle me encore de la mort” (speak to me more about death). Read more…

just let me staple the vicar

From femidoms to pork pies, stapling the vicar to swimming in amen, it’s amazing what you hear being sung about on the radio.

All of us mishear lyrics, even those who sing for their living like my friend Rachel Mathews. (404005_185174974948910_105211750_nRachel and I used to sing together in a gospel group called Many Rivers, doing regular Sunday brunch sessions at the Oxo Tower on the South Bank and the 606 Jazz Club on Lot’s Road.) A talented singer / songwriter, with her own band, Rachel is also a founding member and soloist for Urban Voices, who came to prominence performing at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. Read more…

oh no, brown cow

It might have been my love of reading that persuaded my mum to sign me up for elocution lessons when I was ten. Then again it could have been the fact that, while my elder sisters were excelling at the piano, I was more interested in kicking Heidi, our teacher Miss Hartman’s poodle, for licking my legs during the few lessons I had. Or simply that, in an effort to fit in at our frankly bloody awful school, I was starting to flirt with the Gloucestershire vernacular, saying ‘gurt’ for ‘great’ and ‘Ow bist?’ for ‘How are you?’… Read more…


photoNot everyone uses words in the same way, and Jennie Erdal shows the funny and frustrating effects of someone with a different take on what the ‘right word’ is, in ‘Ghosting’ (Canongate, 2004), her extraordinary book about life as a ghost writer.

“Once I used the word humility, as in ‘I felt a deep sense of humility‘ – to explain how Tiger had felt in the presence of a woman he very much admired and who had borne a heavy cross. I was confident he would love humility. But he didn’t.

‘Isn’t it the same like humiliation?’ he asked. Read more…

26 Atlantic Crossings


When ‘The Unseen’ (shown below), a painting by Canadian artist Barb Hogenauer, pinged into my in-box last May I felt a sharp pang of homesickness for the dramatic landscape of Céret in southern France, my home for seven years, where the view from my window was of The Canigou (above), sacred mountain of the Catalans.

‘The Unseen’ was my artwork – produced by Barb for 26 Atlantic Crossingsa collaboration between 26 Canadian visual artists and 26 writers based in the UK. You can read my poetic response to ‘The Unseen’, below.
my artwork the unseen

The Unseen

The squall hits at dusk, blackening the sky

Like a three-day bruise,

Shrouding the mountain in sulphurous mists

Red sandstone runoff bloodies the sea,

And icy flames of phosphorescence –

Blooming phytoplankton and disturbed crustacea –

Flicker on the ship’s churning wake

Old World émigrés cross themselves,

Filling with foreboding for their journey’s end,

But Canada holds no Ellis Island-like inquisition:

This is home.

Of course, everyone’s response to art is different: I’d be interested to know what Barb’s painting evokes for you. The painting was recently sold, along with a framed copy of my poem, so is now gracing the home of some second generation Canadians, for whom the combination of my words and Barb’s painting had particular resonance, and evoked profound emotions.

If you’re curious to learn how such a geographically challenging collaboration came about, you might want to read this blog post by project originator, Faye Sharpe. Of course, if you had, by chance, been in Prince Edward County, Canada when the project went live, you may even have visited the 26 Atlantic Crossings exhibition, which featured all 26 artworks alongside their matching sestudes (poems of exactly 62 words – a playful inversion of 26, the writing group’s name, inspired by the number of letters in the alphabet).

26 Atlantic Crossings is the latest in a series of fascinating projects I’ve been lucky to be involved with, organised by writers’ group 26: these range from 26 Treasures, a collaboration with National Museums in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (which resulted in a beautiful hard-backed book), to 26 Characters, a project celebrating favourite fictional characters from childhood, at the Oxford Story Museum. You can see more about these projects on my website.

If you’d like to know more about the project, why not download the lovely little 26 Atlantic Crossings e-book free, HERE? (You’ll find ‘The Unseen’ on pages 36/37.) On the same page you’ll find a link to a gorgeous paper version of 26 Characters, for sale at just £5…

Design Week | We Like | 26 Characters

Design WeekSo great to see that a project I’m involved in, 26 Characters, is this morning’s Design Week We Like pick… Having received my copies in the post a couple of days ago, I’m not surprised – it’s a lovely thing, with beautiful illustrations.


B is for Borrowers.

The book sees 26 children’s literary characters – from Mary Poppins to Merlin – reimagined by 26 writers (of whom I am one – see A Father’s Duty) and 26 leading illustrators. 

This book came about thanks to The Story Museum’s 26 Characters exhibition in Oxford. We writers were asked to respond to portraits of leading authors taken by celebrity photographer Cambridge Jones. The author subjects, including Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman and Julia Donaldson, were dressed as their favourite childhood literary characters for the portraits, which featured in the museum’s inaugural exhibition.

Our written responses to the portraits had to be in the form of a sestude – a poem of 62 words exactly (26 in reflection – 26|62 – a form of verse invented by writers’ collective 26 to reflect our name, itself inspired by the number of letters of the alphabet). Each of us was given a letter of the alphabet as our starting point, and the completed sestudes were then passed to the illustrators.

My letter was B, and Paul Pateman, aka Pâté, did a fabulous job illustrating my sestude about Pod & Arrietty from The Borrowers – illustrating the B with a giant pencil clasped in a Borrower’s hands. ‘B’ is for beautifully done, Paul…


Pic by Cambridge Jones

Pic by Cambridge Jones

Here’s the portrait which inspired my little poem: Ted Dewan and his daughter Pandora dressed up as Pod and Arrietty. I’m looking forward to visiting the exhibition proper in a couple of weeks’ time but I’ve already relished seeing authors throw off their inhibitions to personify a favourite character from a childhood book – just look at how gleefully Malorie Blackman embodies The Wicked Witch of the West!


Malorie Blackman as The Wicked Witch of the West








The 26 Characters booklet is available here, priced at £5.

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Absolutely Shoreditched…

Image copyright Charlotte Cory

I seem to be unable to step foot on the grim and grimy pavements of Shoreditch after dark without getting drunk (or ‘Shoreditched’, as I’ve now christened it). See image at left by Charlotte Cory, from her ‘You animal, you’ series, which bears an uncanny resemblance to me the morning after the night before, and can be found on the walls of the Hoxton Hotel.


This tendency to overdo it whenever I head to Hoxton seems to stem from the period when I was working in Shoreditch, reeling from a break up with a long-term boyfriend/business partner. Hedonism seemed the way to go, and it was fun and frantic time of excess, irresponsibility and freedom – a kind of long-delayed adolescence. A dozen years on, I’d thought all that was far behind me, but the last fortnight has proved me wrong, as two successful client presentations in the Old Street area have ended up in decidedly messy evenings…


I’m starting to think I may have a Pavlovian response to being back on these mean streets.

But – reluctant to admit that Shoreditch can still ring my bell – I have another explanation. I blame the food, or rather, the lack of it. Everyone knows that if you forgo the tacos and enchiladas, a couple of glasses of Tequila can have the same effects as a bottle… And I’m frequently unable to eat when I’m out on the town, as I have a serious and frustrating allergy to garlic, which can make eating out positively dangerous. (Unfortunately, I love spicy food – I can think of nothing more delicious than Thai street food – but these days I have to resort to making my own, and it’s just not the same!)

Read more…

Be My Valentine

Though Spring certainly hasn’t sprung, and the birds and bees (and poor old Somerset cows and sheep) are so waterlogged that there’s little love action going on, the arrival of Valentine’s Day still naturally turns one’s thoughts to love. And thus, last night, in the Pig’s Ear in Chelsea, the topic of conversation did just that (more specifically, it turned to the reasons why our friend Richard has yet to find it).

Love heartIt’s not that he’s a bad catch: Richard (who bought the night’s first bottle of Claret) is a sweetheart: generous, warm-hearted, diffident, and charming. Still in his 30s, he’s tall and well-built (verging on nicely cuddly), and makes up for the paucity of his hair by having lovely, expressive, soulful eyes. A successful entrepreneur, he’s comfortably off, so doesn’t have to worry about the rat race, which means he has time to pay attention to friends and family. He even loves kids, for God’s sake, and is the go-to-guy when his beautiful girl friends are looking for a godfather for their offspring.

So, what’s going wrong?

Well, by the time the three of us (me, Richard and our friend Annie) had downed our second bottle of wine, the reasons had become a little clearer…

Text talk

Light started dawning when he shared an ongoing text conversation he’d been having with a prospective date – a close friend of one of his many girlfriends, who’d  decided they’d be perfect together. A couple of dozen texts, sent and received over a three-month period, with many a tentative plan to meet, had all come to nought. What had gone wrong? Well, firstly, why not just ring her, and have a proper conversation? Who wants to chat about nothing very much to some stranger they’ve never seen and not yet talked to? You have to act sometimes, rather than keep life at a distance.

The perils of being a wing-man

We remembered then that his best friend is a charmer: handsome, and far from diffident. They hang out together all the time, and Richard always takes the role of wing man, and, as is traditional, never gets the girl.

Online dating


So we asked him about internet dating, something I have positive personal experience of, as nine years ago I was lucky enough to find my true love on a dating site (Dating Direct, since you ask). We were early adopters, and the scene has developed massively since then, with one in five UK relationships now estimated to have started online, and more than nine million Brits registered with a dating site. There’s a plethora of sites to choose from, from Guardian Soulmates to Match.com, eHarmony to My Single Friend. And, of course, there are special interest sites, such as Be Naughty and MySugarDaddie (sic), PositiveSingles.com (for the HIV positive), farmersonly.com (with all this rain, they need a little sunshine in their lives), uniformdating.com. There’s even one called DiaperMates.com, to bring those who like to dress up in diapers, and those who like to change diapers, together…

Anyway, I digress. What’s clear is that there are lots of options for those looking for love. So, we asked Richard: which dating services do you use? Match.com? eHarmony? Dating Direct? It turned out that this wannabe family man was trying to find love on Tinder. Tinder! The straight equivalent of Grindr, an app whose every pouting picture contains a promise of commitment-free shagging, mind-numbing hangovers and long-lasting regrets.

We asked Richard if he was just looking for a shag. But even as we asked it, we knew that wasn’t it true. He’s an innocent. An old-fashioned guy, more interested in companionship and family than in pulling.

Speed dating

Then Richard mentioned that he’d tried speed dating, and we laughed: we couldn’t imagine how a date like that would go. So, laughing, I persuaded him and Annie to role-play a speed date.

Richard started, and his questions were perfectly polite: “How are you?”, “What do you do?”, “So, what are your plans for the weekend?” Somehow, though, they dead-ended the conversation. So I got Annie to ask the questions, and she turned out to be a natural: “If you were given £10k tomorrow, what would you do with it?”, “If you could live anywhere in the world, money no object, where would you go?”. Faced with such unexpected questions, Richard’s conversation flowed, although his answers were rather eccentric – he said, for instance, that he’d like to live on the back of a whale, and travel around the world and hang out with other whales, ending up in Antarctica, carving himself a fishing hole. But though this whimsical answer is fun, there are few girls not of the Inuit tribe who’d want to marry and raise kids with a a guy who lives by an ice fishing hole…

The moral of the story

If you’re looking for love, it helps if you know what you’re looking for and look for it in the right places…

Here, from TED, is an investigation into love: http://www.ted.com/playlists/143/in_the_mood_for_love.html.

And, if you need some encouragement, here are a few good reasons to search for it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/14/this-is-your-body-on-love_n_4780934.html?ir=GPS%20for%20the%20Soul.

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