Saturday, 30 April 2016

Letters to Nonagenarians

Hello, can you hear me? 


                                                               It looks bad, but in fairness, so would you if you had been 
                                                                     inexplicably planted in some god-forsaken forest.

Communicating with the elderly isn't always easy: emails can be less a means of connection than a point of struggle, and hearing aids can fail in times of need. Indeed, some days communication can seem about as difficult as deciding whether or not the above subtitle now infringes on Adele's copyright.

Yet in the end, making the effort to connect with the elderly can really be worth it. You could find that you and your grandmother really do have more in common than you thought; or, conversely, you might find that you truly are generations apart - and thus have plenty to learn from one another. Go in with an open mind, and there's little to lose (dentures don't bite), and much to gain.

I recently had an essay published by Writers' Square as part of a contest based around the theme of 'time'. The question to which one had to respond was "What was the best experience of your life so far and why?" Not wishing to wring out my memory in search of a single stand-out, stand-alone event, I argued that best experiences can't exist without something leading up to them, and subsequently found a way of writing about my friendship with my great-uncle. It was a friendship I valued a great deal; we wrote letters to one another for quite a few years, right up until his death.

If you are interested in reading the full essay, it is available via my Publications page (see "Hearing His Stories").

And as for nonagenarians in general? The wonderful thing about chatting with people older than you is that they've already experienced much of what you have, and more. In what concerns nonagenarians in particular, listen to them; if they've manage to stay alive for this long, then they definitely know something. There are thoughts to be prompted, and tales to be told.

Besides, in many cases, nonagenarians would simply really appreciate a phone call. One isn't likely to have many friends one's own age upon passing 90, for regrettable, obvious reasons - and hearing about the experiences of someone who still has the knee cartilage to be out and about can really brighten a day. If the phone isn't convenient, write them a letter. The keyboard will still be there later, I promise.

But that nonagenarian in the background, with whom there is the potential to share a wonderful friendship?

To shamelessly swipe from The Beatles, this time: Tomorrow never knows, my friend. Don't be so sure. 

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Double Double Octotrouble, Free Return To Ocean Bubble

Looking at this title, one could be led to believe that I have finally lost my marbles, and am presently blogging from a padded room or, at the very least, a remedial English class. Yet this is not the case!

Meet Inky.

National Aquarium Inky the Octopus

Inky the octopus recently made headlines for escaping from the National Aquarium of New Zealand by squeezing himself down a pipe which led to the ocean. You can read more about it on the aquarium's website, or via other sources such as The Guardian. It's an enchanting story. 

Nevertheless, for all the well-written news reports out there, one angle appears to have been overlooked: that of underwater journalism. What might the octopus community be thinking of this?

The Bay of Plenty Tides
13 April 2016


Long missing 8-legs ink-make returns to sea Deepings

A famous 8-legs ink-make has slither-swum returned to the Great Blue after beaching on a treacherous island and being netted there in a has-reef water box. 

Inktacle, add-bubble gilled as “Inky” to his familink, was but a fresh youth octosquiddle when netted. After he was de-oceaned, his familink all but burp-bubbled hope of crawling with him again. 

“Our clam-pearl of an octosquiddle has been away-tided from us,” gilled Inctacle’s familink after the netting. “We have lost our inkling, and are currentless as to how to strong-tide him back.”

This particular netting left deep-bite sharkmarks on the 8-legs ink-make coralmunity. Although 8-legs ink-makes typically squelch out thousands of octosquiddles at a time, in the gill-burps of the coralmunity’s main-legs Tentaclelder, “Every octosquiddle is different.” And Inktacle, jump-ship gilled to be a “tomorrow-sea tide-rider” owing to his big-bubble curiosity, was indeed treasure-chested by all who shared water with him. 

Inktacle, however, was not calamaried and swallowed by land-sharks after his netting – he was actububble warm-tided by the land-sharks, and taken to a mini-sea in Napier, New Sealand. Napier’s mini-sea is actububble the main-legs mini-sea of the island; the land-sharks call it the ‘National Aquarium’. 

In the few tides since Inktacle washed himsquelf out of the mini-sea by small-squeezing himsquelf down a ‘drainpipe’[1], the National Aquarium has been much gilled all under the world in ink-presses such as The New York Tides, Sea-NN, and The Daily Snail. Inktacle, however, has not slithered forward for an interview, preferring to remain anonymussel.

“The gill-burps on the grapebrine are that Inky is preferring to lie low, and to spend some tides with his familink,” confides a crusted source. “But while he is ecstatink to have strong-tided back to his coralmunity, he also heart-bubbles his mini-sea in Napier. He endless tide bubble-babbles about how soft-current and gentle-rocking they were towards him.”

Inktacle’s family agrees. “They were definitely not suckers,” they gilled. 

Yet one question keeps swimming: what is next tide for Inktacle? 

Close friend Octavia Squeeze-Bubble, of the high-tide Ship-Limpet tentaclan, feels shore to know the answer. “He’s big-bubble adventurous, right dive-down to his tentatips, and will probabubble wash up as a see-sea,” she gushed.

Inktacle’s familink, meanwhile, quiet-gilled that he might slither-squeeze back to his old-tide mini-sea in Napier, for a swim-through and a gill-gill with his land-shark friends. 

Either wave, if there’s one bubble we can blow, it’s that Inktacle will be evertide surprisink us.

[1] Like in Nemo legend: made of bad-taste hard-rock, ‘drainpipe’ is water link to land-shark islands. It is shaped like anemone tentacle, and often finned by sea-edge.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

A Matter of Perspective

When perspicacity really is little more than “keen vision”

Look at a word, and what do you see? A jumble of letters, sounds; perhaps a stray verb tailing here, or a snippet of onomatopoeia there. English is a notoriously difficult language to learn to a high level, and not least because a lot of the time its words appear to make absolutely no sense

This is the language which spells words such as “trough” “through”, and “though” in almost the exact same way, after all. Just look at the poem The Chaos by Gerard Nolst Trenité, if you would like more examples – indeed, read it and weep. A non-English speaker coming to the Latin alphabet in its Anglosphere form could be forgiven for thinking, on first impression, that this language has been mutated beyond all repair, and should have been left outside to die in the cold when it was spawned back in the 14th century. 

To add to the confusion, the real meanings behind English words are also more obscure than those of, for example, English’s cousins in mainland Europe. Ours is a bastardised language; it created meaning out of a melange. As a result, most words end up being more than the sum of their parts to English speakers, simply because the parts on their own mean very little to us nowadays, seeing as most Anglophones have neither the opportunity nor the inclination to study Latin or Old High German. Fair enough; life is short, tempus fugit, carpe diem (and any other number of inspirational phrases regularly tattooed onto the biceps or lumbar region). 

And then there are languages such as Mandarin which, for all it lacks an alphabet and subsequently devastates the morale of learners everywhere, is at least quite logical in its lexical composition. Characters regularly combine to form new words with obvious meanings. Take the word “sloth”, for example: in Mandarin, sloths are known as “樹懶”, which literally translates to “tree-lazy”. Imagine if more English words made as much sense as that – it would be like having a language made up of words such as “starfish”, “basketball”, and “cupcake”. A logician’s heaven.

Yet what if English is actually already like that?
                                 Tree-lazies: they grow on you.

“Sloth” is not merely a word devised by some petty zoologist who wished to make children with lisps suffer; nor is it merely five letters thrown together and declared to have meaning. It’s actually derived from Middle English’s slou, or slowe, which – spelling reformation aside – clearly equates to today’s ‘slow’.  

So maybe English isn’t quite the illogical evil which it is often made out to be in language circles; indeed, perhaps one’s reading of it simply depends on perspective, and learning just a little bit about the parts of words which draws the larger picture together. For example: Perspective.

Perspective; perspicacity; prospective; circumspect; expect; spectrum.

Look up any one of these in the Online Etymology Dictionary, a.k.a. your new best and most perspicacious friend.

Latin’s specere means ‘to look at’; ‘to view’. This ties back to specchio – Italian for ‘mirror’.
Spectator. Spectacle. The “Specsavers” optical retail chain. “Specs”, a slang term for glasses. 


English isn’t merely made up of one letter being slotted after the next, and of meaningless syllables being lumped together to form random sounds. Perspicacity didn’t always have the second meaning of ‘intellectual keenness’. No; ‘perspicacity’ grew from a Latin word relating to vision. 

Understanding English, therefore, is not about cleverness. It’s not about guessing, and it’s not about tests of memory relating to words which expose no immediate meaning. Ultimately, all it really comes down to is one’s ability to see what is already there; one’s ability to read patterns in the alphabet soup. 

And who knows what we might find?

Sunday, 3 April 2016

First Post Fatalism

On navigating the murky waters of the blogosphere

I mentioned in a recent email to my father that I was considering starting a blog – but that I was also concerned that doing so would entail transforming into a massive narcissist, or at the very least sounding like someone who has. I mean, isn’t there something inherently pretentious and self-aggrandizing about creating a platform specifically to showcase one’s opinions, ideas, projects, and personality? 

My father concurred. “Frankly, there's no way of explaining our personalities, philosophies, and interests without coming across as a bit of a nob,” he replied. 

Excellent. I am either utterly impersonal, or doomed. 

Nevertheless, I’ve decided to create a blog in the hope that it can act as a companion to the writing that I have published elsewhere, as well as other interests of mine. Alternatively, it can at least be a nice place for me to communicate with far-away friends, jabber on about the subjects of my choice, and abuse semi-colons at my leisure. 

Thank you for visiting!