Phew, what a scorcher.

It’s a hoary old cliché, but my word, it really is hot out there. I am almost grateful for the shade of an air-conditioned office – but then, perhaps I am too British about the weather, complaining whichever way it happens to fall. It’s so different to last summer, when torrential downpours conspired with the Golden Jubilee, the Olympics and the recession to wreak havoc upon the peak tourism season; so on the whole, I think the mood here in Cornwall is a happy one.

The latest edition of Cornwall Today hit the shelves today, and I think the cover reflects the current mood. As I recall saying to photographer Mike Newman: “Take the kids and a windbreak to the beach, and get something summery.” With weather like this, how could he fail?

Of course, there can be fewer places as nice as Cornwall to live when the sun is out. I appear to be raising a water baby, so much of my spare time (lovely long weekends, thanks to part-time hours) has been spent on the county’s lovely beaches. One of the best things about being in Truro is the fact that both north and south coasts are 20 minutes’ drive, so you can take your pick. We love Carne beach on the Roseland peninsula, and Chapel Porth near St Agnes (pictured below). The latter offers the most fabulous ice cream, although we were less enamoured with the weaver fish that bit my mother-in-law on the big toe last week.
On Sunday, my other half decided we should take a family trip “up north”, perhaps inspired by the feature on Bude in the July issue of CT. Strangely, it seemed we had chosen the only place in Cornwall that day to be shrouded in fog. A sunny walk inland along Bude’s historic canal was followed by a dip in the community-run sea pool, which in the mist resembled a Turkish sauna (see left). It was fabulous.
My daughter was three last week, and the party was a simple affair: rather than labouring with pass the parcel and musical chairs, we invited little friends around to play with outdoor toys (paddling pool, trampoline) in the garden, with Pimms aplenty for the parents. Easy-peasy – well, apart from the inevitable “my house, my toys, no share” moments. This Saturday will see us at a beach party – look out, Falmouth.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re making the most of the weather. Slap on the suncream, don’t forget your hat, swim safely – and enjoy.

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How’s your grammar?

Readers who are keen grammarians, like me, might be baffled by the Wildabout feature in the April issue of Cornwall Today. It’s about Kings Wood near St Austell. That’s right – Kings Wood. No apostrophe. I triple checked it myself, on the Woodland Trust website. It doesn’t matter that it was named in honour of a monarch who visited centuries ago; it does not carry an apostrophe of ownership.
You can choose to be “correct” (or, as some might have it, “bloody-minded”) about such matters; or you can settle for consistency. I plumped for the latter; as such, you shouldn’t find a single apostrophe where the name occurs, not even on the cover. If you do, feel free to write in and complain – not an invitation I issue lightly.
Missing apostrophes reared their heads recently when Mid-Devon Council announced its intention to remove them – and all forms of punctuation – from new street signs, so as not to “baffle” residents. The Plain English Campaign branded the idea ‘nonsense’, while the Apostrophe Appreciation Society called it ‘disgusting’. I can think of worse things to happen, but it seems to have worked, for the council leader is to recommend a reversal of the policy at the end of the month.
It would be sad to see the apostrophe disappear on street signs, and it would be the beginning of the end without a doubt. Gradually, it would be dropped elsewhere, eventually to become extinct. Future generations would regard it as an archaic eccentricity. In fact, it’s probably inevitable.
You might expect a wordsmith like me to deplore poor standards of literacy. Facebook friends will be familiar with my occasional rants about poor punctuation and spelling, usually triggered by national PRs sending me releases which are not only irrelevant to my publication, but full of howlers to boot. On the one hand, these mark my out as a true conservative; on the other, such status updates attract a lot of comments, so I must be in good company.
While I do get annoyed by greengrocers’ apostrophes and inappropriate mis-spellings (eg in requests for work experience), I’m less hidebound than you might think. I’ve been known to write “C U 2moz” in text speak, but you won’t see that creeping into my professional work.
As a former language student, I’m interested in communication in all its forms – spoken and written – and indulge in the odd anoraky book. At university, I read Language Change: Progress Or Decay, by eminent linguist Jean Aitchison, and it stayed with me. It’s not a difficult concept to follow – we don’t speak as our ancestors did in the times of Chaucer or Shakespeare, so why should we expect our descendants to speak as we do? The things we sniff at today may well be the norms of tomorrow, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
I’m on a bit of a roll at the moment when it comes to anoraky books. I started with Just My Type – a history of fonts by Simon Garfield. I now know that the font Cornwall Today uses (Frutiger if you please) is named after Adrian Frutiger, the Swiss typographer who invented it, and was first used on information signs in Parisian airports.
Then I moved onto Spell It Out by David Crystal. I heard him interviewed on the Today programme, and thought, “There’s a book for me.” I’m a pretty good speller, but I wanted to know why other people find it so hard. Crystal explains very clearly how the irregularities we find frustrating in the English language stem were influenced by many factors – the habits of scribes, the preferences of printers (who made more money if they used more ink, hence longer words), and the influence of foreign languages (Latin, French, even Flemish).
It’s fascinating, and what I found especially interesting is that David Crystal, who is a leading expert on the subject, does not see a spelling system in decline, but one in a natural state of development in our multi-media world. For example, he believes that text speak, far from eroding our ability to spell, will strengthen it. After all, you have to really understand how language works in order to subvert it.
And the way that spelling is taught needs some serious thought. Rules such as “ie before e except after c” do not always follow, and lists of words that are not connected or placed in context are pointless. I still recall being asked to spell “succour”, a word I’d never encountered before, and didn’t know the meaning of. I spelled it “sucker” and lost a mark; on arguing that this was a valid spelling, I was told that it wasn’t the word I’d been asked to learn. To this day, it’s a word I rarely use, but always remember.
Then there’s the word from the reading test that we followed right through primary school. It was the last word on the list, the only one I couldn’t manage. When the teacher was out of the room, I wrote it down on a scrap of paper, then took it home and asked my mum: what is it? The word was “idiosyncrasy”. Today, I think it’s quite a good word, but aged 10, it meant nothing. I suppose you could argue that we were being tested on our ability to apply acquired knowledge and guess at a pronunciation, but even so, it was hardly a realistic gauge of a child’s linguistic skills. It looks so alien to any other word I know. It has too many ys, and why idio, rather than ideo? (Answer: it’s from Greek rather than Latin. Thanks, Wikidictionary.)
I’m now reading Lost For Words: The Mangling And Manipulation Of The English Language by John Humphrys. Just when I think it’s straying into real “grumpy old man” territory, he throws up something that has me cheering in agreement.
For the record, my pet hates are:
• Use of the word “unique” in press releases, to describe something that is anything but, drives me potty. Unless you can prove it, don’t use it.
• The most misspelled word in history is definitely “definitely”.
• The creeping use of “yourself”, especially in call centre speak, to denote an obsequious professionalism, ie. “I’m just calling yourself because…”, makes me hang up on the spot.
I am not perfect. You may well wish to print out this blog, go through it with a red pen and send it to my office. Go right ahead – if it adds to the debate, that’s fine by me.

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Another day, another cause

Did you know that today is World Book Day? I found out on Tuesday, when nursery asked if I would like to send Daughter dressed as her favourite literary character. We plumped for the bedtime bunny in Goodnight Moon, a delightful post-war book which ends each day for us (I can recite it in my sleep). The fact that this involved a pair of pyjamas and some ready-owned bunny ears was a bonus.

Come today, however, Daughter was tired and grumpy, and would not wear her bunny ears. At nursery, I saw children in Gruffalo suits and home-made SpongeBob SquarePants sandwich boards; and I dropped off Daughter, in her pyjamas. They were clean on this morning, I promise.

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. My inbox has been ringing throughout the day with messages from businesswomen about how they will be spending the day. I will be picking up my car from the garage, which is rather prosaic; but I will at least have baby swimming in the morning, a real highlight of the mummy/Daughter week.

I recently attended a focus group with Frugi, previewing the company’s AW13 clothing range for babies and children. I wondered aloud why bright blue dungarees were labelled as boys’ clothing, when I’d be quite happy to put them on my daughter. “Lots of people say that,” said director Lucy Jewson, “and I don’t disagree. But our sales figures say otherwise – it’s pink that everyone buys.”

While on maternity leave, I came across a website called Pink Stinks. I thought this was a bit harsh – I don’t mind pink, just not all the time, and preferably not pastel. OH also noticed a pink prevalence when buying Daughter’s last birthday present from a well-known high street toy retailer: “It’s all pink, plastic and princesses,” he sighed, before buying the single wooden toy in the shop.

Perhaps a more serious part of International Women’s Day is the consideration of how women live in other countries, and the celebration of strong role models. I’m all for that. Over the past year, I have been struck by the serenity of Aung San Suu Kyi, and thoroughly admired the fortitude of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by Taliban supporters for daring to campaign for women’s education. Her positive attitude on coming round from surgery should be an inspiration to all.

I often attend networking events at which I’m asked to promote my job to young people – tell them what I do, why I love it, how I got where I am today, etc. At a recent do, a male counterpart looked rather dejected. It turned out he worked in a traditionally masculine industry, and had spent much of the morning surrounded by all-girl groups who he assumed were a lost cause.

He was probably right, but I thought it a shame that, as his field is one supposedly crying out for more women to redress the balance, he hadn’t been better prepared by his employer to encourage those girls to apply, and to tell them why it’s as much their world as his. I was even more disappointed when, following some gentle probing, I discovered views that I thought went out of fashion with the ark. He felt that the onus was on women to shrug off male banter, and that those who didn’t weren’t right for the profession. “You can’t change men like that – you just have to fit in,” he said.

It saddens me that a generation of young men still see life this way. It’s the equivalent of saying “If you can’t stand the heat …” or “Get a sense of humour, love.” The idea that a woman might be forced to leave a job, not because she’s no good at it but because she feels intimidated and unsupported by colleagues, seems plain wrong.

As a student barmaid 20 years ago, I recall being the subject of sexual attentions. One man regularly had me in stitches. “Ooh Kirstie, I’ll make love to you, but not while you’re wearing those socks,” he would say. I didn’t mind that – it was a light-hearted gag, no harm meant. But the guy in the back room who told me I had nice breasts, and then proceeded to stare at them, was different. When I asked a male colleague to serve him, I was told in no uncertain terms: “If you can’t do the job, you shouldn’t be here.” It probably didn’t help that as a university student, I was considered la-di-da. Class and gender – the double whammy. Posh bird.

What it actually boils down to is bullying, and collusion – you fit in, so if doesn’t affect you. But if people took a stand, we could stamp out these attitudes for our children, and our children’s children.

Am I a feminist? If that means being a person with rights and opinions, who wants to be treated the same as others, then hell, yes. I’ve told girls they can do anything they like – no doors should be closed because of their gender. But sometimes I wonder whether I’ve got it all wrong. Thanks to our Suffragette ancestors, women today have it so much better – but we’ve still got a long way to go.

On the plus side, Frugi plans to categorise its online shop according to age, so you can decide for yourself whether your two-year-old wears flowers or dinosaurs. It’s a small but significant step towards equality, and I say “aye” to that.

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Sorry? You don’t say.

So Councillor Collin Brewer has resigned his position. No surprise there – it was pretty untenable. Since news of his unfortunate remarks made the news on Tuesday evening, a Facebook page has amassed some 3,500 members, with moderators making regular appeals for calm, and advising against death threats and personal visits to the Wadebridge councillor’s home. More than 2,800 people voted in a poll on, with an overwhelming 97 per cent calling for his resignation. Celebrity Katie Price, whose son Harvey who suffers from medical conditions including septo-optic dysplasia, joined the debate, asking: “How would you like to dispose of my son?”

For anyone who has been away from Planet Earth, or at the very least away from Cornwall, the controversy has raged since a report was released revealing details of Cllr Brewer’s comments to a female worker for Hayle charity Disability Cornwall, which helps parents of children with special educational needs, at an equalities event in 2011. He suggested that disabled children “cost the council too much money and should be put down”. She made an official complaint; a year later, Cllr Brewer apologised in writing. Six months later still, the politically incorrect exchange has gone public, and the beleaguered councillor has been forced by widespread outrage to surrender his post of 26 years.

Apart from demonstrating the tendency for social media to descend into mob rule, what interested me most about this sorry affair is what it is acceptable to say and to whom, and when an apology is required. Cllr Brewer’s response to the furore was that he had “not intended to cause offence”. This stance is either extremely naïve, or an untruth. Quite who he thought would find such a comment inoffensive is unclear, as I would imagine that most people of normal sensitivities would be horrified, let alone a disability rights campaigner. He compounded this by saying that his comments were made when he was “hot under the collar” and was looking to provoke a debate, so he must have known they would touch a nerve.

It reminded me of an incident at university some 20 years ago. It was the boat club dinner, a predictably alcohol-fuelled event liable to end in high jinks. Tradition dictated that personalised menus be passed around the room and adorned with comments, mostly kind with the occasional “Who are you?” thrown in. Memorably, a member of one of the men’s teams suggested that he had a “cure” for his homosexual female counterpart. She was upset; he refused to apologise on the grounds that it was “a joke”.

We covered this in the college mag. The editor conducted a straw poll of his male friends, who agreed that the offended party lacked a sense of humour. I appeared to be a lone voice of sympathy for the woman in question, believing as I did that the perpetrator should at least apologise for upsetting her, even if he didn’t understand why his comments were offensive. His refusal smacked of arrogance, homophobia and mysogyny. But hey, we were young (and inebriated). Some of the people involved might feel differently now (or might not).

I am by no means perfect. I sometimes point at the elephant in the room and I’m not great with secrets. Even my best friends would tell you that I’m a dab hand at putting my foot in it. But they might also add, generously, that I am what the Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy would have described as “mostly harmless”. I never mean to cause offence, and am blessed with enough self-awareness to know when motor-mouth has kicked in. Apologies are swift.

Truth be told, I am trying hard to improve in this regard, but after 40 years, I don’t see myself joining the diplomatic corps. (This from a person who, when told by a fellow mummy friend “You look slim,” replied “You look … well.” It wasn’t my finest moment. You know who you are. Big, big sorry – again.)

Had I ever uttered a phrase as appalling as Cllr Brewer’s (unlikely as it is), I would have apologised immediately and profusely, and offered as large a donation as financially possible in the hope that the incident would go no further. As my good friend Jess said on TV last night, these things might be forgivable among friends and colleagues; but to for someone in Cllr Brewer’s position to say such a terrible thing to someone who would so obviously be offended gives a new level of meaning to the word “ill-judged”.

Sorry? You don’t say.

My friend Jess’s blog:

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Britain beware

Watching Britain Beware on Bank Holiday Monday, I was reminded of seminal moments during my childhood. The programme, presented by Adrian Edmondson, offered a nostalgic and informative trawl through the archives of the Central Office of Information (COI), the government department charged with (among other things) advising the public on how to avoid the daily dangers of life.

I was watching as my partner worked for COI – not for its revered film-making unit, but co-ordinating the regional events that would back the campaigns beamed into our homes during breaks in Coronation Street. However, you’d have been just as likely to watch if you’d been a member of the Tufty Club, or if you bore a soft spot for Charley the cat (voiced by Kenny Everett – who knew?).

Foe me, the show offered an insight into how public information campaigns had shaped my own approach to life. It amazes me that while I would never be allowed to watch horror movies, I was actively encouraged to view some of these short films so obviously inspired by them. I vividly recall the chill I felt, as a little girl, upon hearing Donald Pleasance’s Grim Reaper intone: “I am the spirit of dark and lonely water.”

And I once begged a teacher not to make me watch a gruesome film called “Building Sites Bite,” having already been reduced to tears by a similarly graphic short depicting children dying in accidents around the home (drinking fertiliser from a lemonade bottle in the garden shed, for instance). As each met a grisly demise, their teacher stripped their name symbolically from their coat peg. What an unfortunate class.

Did these films deter me from playing by stagnant water or slurry pits, from drinking household fluids or flying kites by pylons? I’m not sure I’d have been minded to, even if the opportunity had arisen.

The campaigns that made more of an impact included the sustained appeal against drink-driving. This was illustrated by a conversation down the pub, which revealed that older friends seemed quite comfortable with the idea of drinking, then driving home – it had been socially acceptable in their youth, and besides, they knew their limits. In contrast, I and friends of a similar age exercised zero tolerance, having grown up with films that showed the dire consequences, from physical disability and death to emotional trauma and criminal records. As a young child, the sight of such an advert at Christmas (boyfriend/girlfriend go out for a few drinks, boyfriend drives home and has a crash, girlfriend winds up on life support) made me cry.

Then there’s “Clunk Click, every trip”. I won’t set off on a journey until I know everyone has belted up, even in the back. After all, they are the ones who will hit me, as evidenced in “Julie knew her killer” (her son, who crushed her to death due to lack of a rear seatbelt). As with drink-driving, or speeding, I am haunted by the idea that my actions might result in death, if not mine then that of a loved one, or of someone else’s nearest and dearest.

These messages work. I don’t quite understand the argument against the “nanny state” that conspired with the current recession to bring about the closure of COI in March. Not everyone is born with the same amount of common sense or civic responsibility. Sometimes people need telling, and COI found endless ways of doing this. A more recent campaign targeted teenagers through mobile phone footage of a distracted youth walking straight into the path of an oncoming car. This film went viral, and highlights a very real problem – I often check my mobile while walking, and I’m a lot older than the target audience.

When I was at primary school, the Green Cross Code Man visited my home town to instruct us gently in the safest way to cross the road. Now I have a child of my own, I feel a huge sadness, and a great weight of responsibility, that I will have to teach her these things without his help.

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You win some….

“It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part.” How many times have we all trotted out that mantra – without really meaning it? Of course it’s the winning. But hey, there can only be one winner, so it’s best not to get too cut up when you don’t, and to take consolation in being nominated or short-listed.

That was my conclusion on Wednesday evening, when Cornwall Today was beaten to the title of Regional Magazine of the Year at the 2012 Newspaper Awards. The nosh at the Park Lane Hilton was very nice, but a trophy would have sealed the deal. Sadly for us, that went to Cambridge publication CB. The same went my Cornish Guardian colleagues, who were pipped to the post of Weekly Newspaper of the Year by the Cumberland News.

But while we might not have brought home any gongs (and given they were unwieldy pieces of glass, I was quite relieved not to have to cart it home on public transport), we took great pleasure in flying the flag forCornwallas loudly as we could. This was an international gathering, with competitors from as far afield as Ireland and Frankfurt, so we were in good company. And the judges said some very nice things about us, notably that CT was “a huge magazine”. Cheers, guys.

It was the first time I’d been to London in two years, and my first night away from my little girl. It was a wrench, but as she seems to have hit the Terrible Two stage, I took my leave graciously in the knowledge that Daddy and Granny would have tears at bedtime.

The journey up took five hours – it’s a long way to go not to win anything, but hey-ho. Maybe that’s why I have so little patience with the capital. When it takes so much effort to get there, I expect some kind of payback. And the hassle – at Paddington on the way back, I left the Tube to find crowds stopped at the gates due to congestion on the Bakerloo line. I felt smug to be leaving it all behind me.

As I headed back to beautifulCornwall, I took great comfort in the messages left on Cornwall Today’s Facebook page. Take National Trust – Heart ofCornwall, who said: “On home turf, to all of us in Cornwall, you are number one. Stand proud, Cornwall Today!” Or Kath Mulligan: “You are always number one in my book and I am thoroughly enjoying reading all the goodies in the May issue – trying to ration myself to about 10 pages a day to make the pleasure last:-)”

As it’s the readers we aim to please, maybe we’re not losers after all.

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Prepare to be moved

He-man, delivery driver, OHCornwall Today features a regular slot called Moving Story, in which recently arrived subjects share their experiences of relocating to the county, usually in pursuit of a convivial environment a stone’s throw from the beach. Many are professionals who have left behind a secure city job in order to live what was once called, somewhat patronisingly, “the good life”. Far from retiring to a life of relaxation and/or feeding chickens, most of them come armed with good business sense and start up successful companies of their own, while throwing themselves into community life to boot – arguably the kind of people that Cornwall, or any county, needs.

It’s a long time since I moved house. I had barely left studenthood when I moved in with OH. He often jokes (I think) that my most significant contributions to the household were the tiny milk pan my gran sent with me to university, and the cheap, red-handled forks we now use to feed the cat.

How different things are today. Fourteen years later, we seem to have covered every available surface with possessions of varying quality. Moving house is a prime opportunity to cast one’s eye one’s collected worldly goods. It is often illuminating, and frequently exasperating.

We have enough books to open our own library, were anyone interested in the contents (me: foreign languages and pop music; him: cars and world dictators). Looking through them has been fun; I have planned my reading for the next six months, focusing on disposable chick-lit and period novels which can then be consigned to charity shops. Mind you, this does rely on me staying awake after a day of work followed by an evening of toddler control.

Our CD collection has grown exponentially – and when I say “our”, I should note that merging our separate collections last year was as big a sign of commitment as any marriage ceremony. I alphabetised it for a second time upon moving into our rented flat, only to see it trashed and strewn the very next day by a toddler with no respect for Fairport Convention or Fairground Attraction.

The flat was initially an uncluttered, peaceful haven, free of toddler hazards. This notion has evaporated since the contents of our three-storey house have been transferred to this ground-floor, two-bedroom accommodation.

For many months, I flitted between flat and house, which seemed less like home every time I visited. Living out of two places reminded me of growing up, when my mum worked nights and I would stay with my grandparents three nights a week. I would invariably find that some vital item was in the wrong house, and so it was this time.

No matter how many sippy cups I bought, there would never be one in sight in the moment of need, so off I’d trot to buy another. When we move to a bigger house, I will dedicate an entire room to my EU sippy cup mountain. I’ve also acquired several pairs of baby nail scissors – one for each abode and one spare, rather like tea bags in a pot.

We moved most of our furniture a few weekends ago with the help of Jonathan, a friend who possessed the brawn that we both lacked. He also had a good line in phrases deemed suitable for removal men: “Just let me get a purchase on this,” or “Let the weight take the strain,” delivered with a theatrical wink. Contrary to my expectations, there were no Right Said Fred moments of pianos falling through ceilings, or endless cups of tea.

A couple of weeks later, Stephanie helped us paint a room and took charge of cleaning. She handled the hoover with nifty expertise, and cast a discerning eye over our remaining possessions. Everyone has them: wilting plants, items that have “sentimental value” or “might be mended”. Every time I fill a box with yet more of this junk, I ask myself whether I should be taking it to the tip rather than paying good money to store it. Alas, they hold me powerless in their grip.

When she visited us in Truro on Easter Monday, Stephanie was amazed to discover that OH’s parents lived right next door. “I thought you meant figuratively – like up the road,” she said as we walked the few steps it took to say hello. It’s a real boon, not only for us but also for our beloved cat. Regular readers may remember my concerns about moving Polly. Fear not, she is as happy as a pig in muck, having quickly worked out who our friends and family are and which doors are open to her. She currently counts three houses as fair game – as the other two are considerably tidier and quieter than ours, I can’t say I blame her. I sometimes feel tempted myself.

Recommended storage: M-Store are just off the A30 at Roche, easy access 24/7.

Do you have a Moving Story, or know someone who does? E-mail me at

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