Confessions of Another Common Reader

Setting priorities


Wonderful evening on Sunday made up for the mess the rest of the day had become through lack of forward planning. I realise I am very bad at standing up to be counted in more ways than just the political-protest one: sometimes when I know what the right thing to do is I still feel too embarassed to insist on it. And I can’t spell “embarrassed” either. Anyway, my failure to press home the “pre-booking strongly advised” message about the Star Wars exhbition at the National Space Centre meant that we ended up there at 1:30 on Sunday afternoon, with all exhibition tickets sold out, no lightsabres in the gift shop, and a departure deadline of 3:00 to allow Himoutdoors to get back for singing. Which it later turned out we didn’t need to do as he actually wasn’t on the rota.

Thrilled to spot old friends at (very stressful for me) evening service. Elizabeth and family moved away from us last year and we miss them, but since we are equally bedecked with offspring, meeting up is like the proverbial military campaign only more inflexible. We managed to lure them back to our cave for “just a quick drink”, the first baby step on the slippery slope to DVDs and popcorn (air-popped, no sugar, naturellement) for the smalls, curry and gin for the grown-ups. It was really great to see them, and to feel that it is possible to still do fun and spontaneous things without causing massive upheaval to everyone. (Doubtless the second this is published Liz will post a torrid tale of hell on the London Eye the next morning, thus proving me wrong. Bad, bad mummy.)

Something Liz said made me think about the nature of priority-setting and what is important to us. There are so may things that I feel I should do as a parent but don’t. Just saying I don’t have the time to and that’s that doesn’t feel good enough. Sneakingly, deep down (OK, actually not very deep down at all, but a small distance below the surface at least) I believe that actually I do have the time, and it’s just my own selfish need to do other things that prevents me from doing all of these things. Ergo, I am a terrible parent.

Late last night I decided that instead of going to sleep to prepare for the week ahead (are you spotting a pattern here?), I was going to finish reading the Grauniad Weekend magazine. This dreadful piece of tat annoys me so much I really am at a loss as to why I still bother reading it. But currently enjoying Oliver Burkeman’s This Column Will Change Your Life, on self-help etc. etc. but with a strong emphasis on the productivity angle. This week, he covered a book by Arnold Bennett, How To Live On 24 Hours A Day, which I am looking forward to adding to my ever-growing list of 5,000,000 Books I Don’t Have Time To Read. Apparently it’s online which makes it even more likely I’ll never get round to opening it. A pity, as this quote really got my attention:

His central idea echoes down the decades: cultivate your capacity to pay attention – to not let life go by in a distracted blur – and time expands. His book is full of techniques for finding a few hours a week to study music, history, public transport systems. His point isn’t what you pay attention to; it’s that you pay attention.

This was one of the most wonderful things about my year off with Smallest. I felt that I had suddenly discovered how to pay attention to time passing. I don’t think I had yet moved on to the next step of discovering how to set some of it aside to do important things, but it must have been a good first step.

What on earth does “editorial voice” mean?


I was busy avoiding doing all the stuff I was meant to be doing (like, the washing-up… our change-of-address letters… about an hour’s work on my day job so that I can start tomorrow with a clean[er] slate and a tidier mind… and so on) when the latest from Kathy Marks on the writing process popped into my inbox.

That got me thinking about the question of “editorial voice”. In my previous job, this one was a real hot potato. I worked for a consultancy that wrote strategic reports on telecoms and IT, but also, unusually, employed an editorial team to help turn what the consultants spat out back into readable English.

There was a constant struggle between author and editor over the issue of where the line lay between dumbing down and improving readability – with the battle basically being decided by the quality of the personal relationship between author and editor, rather than any particularly sound and future-proofed policy.

I’ve just begun making a real effort to write properly on this site myself (confession: I broke my original intent to post once daily as a discipline analogous to the “1000 words a day” that some writers employ on – er – Day 2), and already, the voice I’ve adopted is direct, informal, personalised – feature-writing style, of the kind that lies somewhere between a confessional and an editorial.

Of the sites I read regularly, probably 95% fall into this category, with that percentage approximately 75:25 split between people who write in this style with an informative or tutorial purpose and people who are just writing personal stuff. The only ones that don’t are the Microsoft-watching tech sites, which adopt a computer-journalist style and rarely fall into the trap of writing personally (though Mary-Jo Foley’s recent post about the Channel 9 bloggers’ reaction to one of her reports is a notable exception).

Which said, this could simply be a reflection of my personal preferences – I buy the Saturday Guardian primarily on the grounds that I like the supplements, and find the journalism overly biased. So I’m not exactly renowned for seeking out the impersonal and objective in modern journalism.

It would be an interesting exercise to look around a bit more and expand my horizons, wouldn’t it? Oh, and it would be nice if there were around 36 hours in the day… that way I could be finishing this post up now and still get a decent night’s sleep.

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It’s not meant to be pretentious. But I wanted some way of saying “here we are again at the beginning”. And the strange scruffy being who sometimes shares my living space (also known as my husband) bought me a first edition of Finnegans Wake as my wedding present so it seemed to fit.
While I hope that my relationship with my blog isn’t as cyclical as FW, I still wanted to start with something a bit different, and also with something that makes a statement about what’s important to me. I read English at university, and since I learned to read, books have been roughly as essential to my general emotional wellbeing as, say, a good woolly jumper is to campers on the Isle of Skye in December.
End of last year sometime, after lurking around the WordPress site for a few months, I finally overcame my natural desire to get everything just right first time (funny – my mum says it was always my brother who found the impulse towards perfection the real obstacle to trying anything new. Good thing we don’t stay 3 years old forever) and had a bash at installation.
Managed it OK after a couple of false starts. Wrote two or three fairly meaningless posts (I seem to recall that the first post rather self-pityingly described how stressful life was being me), tweaked the layout in a halfhearted sort of way, garnered about 20 times as much comment spam as there was actual WRITING, and then did nothing more with it.
Until last night, when by a complete coincidence, (i) I decided I’d like to comment on something in my blog (ii) I discovered that my hosting provider’s CGI server had died, taking with it my WordPress 1.2 installation. Well, that saved me struggling through the slightly scary process of upgrading, didn’t it?
So here I am, 1am, a born-again WordPress virgin. I think that’s quite enough for a “first time”.