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March 2005 - A Word in Your Ear

I can't say that I'm that much of a fan of February, you know.  I mean, it's damn cold, it has fewer days than any other month, yet there's just as much to do, it seems.

Mind you, having started with the assumption that February is damn cold, that proves exactly how wrong you can be when you don't even try.

I had to pop up to London the other day, one of those days when the forecasters were warning of all sorts of major meteorological mishaps.  The snow was supposed to be umpteen feet deep and travel was supposed to be near impossible.

Like an idiot, I decided to abandon the new motor car for the day and let First Great Western take the strain.

Having forked out huge amounts of collateral in the direction of the man in the ticket office, off I went to town, hardly seeing any snow, and definitely no drifts, for the whole of my day out.  We didn't even manage to have one snowflake of the wrong kind on the line.

All I got in exchange for my enormous investment in public transport was the dubious entertainment value of now knowing the entire "The next stop is click Pewsey click; please remember to take all your personal belongings with you when you leave the train; thank you for travelling First Great Western; click Pewsey click is the next stop" recording off by heart.

I'm sure I recognised the lady's voice, but perhaps that's a discussion for another time and place.

So, here I am, almost at the end of February, still rushing around like a mad thing, but without so much as a whisper of an idea for any great and wondrous subjects with which to enthral you, dear viewer, this time round.

As this edition comes out on St David's Day, I suppose I could drone on at great length about Mr P of south Wales and how rude it was of him to refer to me as Nick Meldrew; but I believe I did something similar to that to death about thirteen months ago.

Mr P, however, wasn't the only one to provide feedback on my sad imprisonment, as featured last month.  Messages, almost every one not for publication and the vast majority totally unsuitable for same, came from both near and nearly as near.

In true "Points of View" style, the Correspondence Column now contains a totally unrepresentative sample, that is one letter saying how funny I was!

Mind you, that is from somebody who used to play out the radio version of this load of old cobblers many years ago, so I have an idea that even he could be just a tad biased.

The viewing figures for the imprisonment shot through the roof as it happens.  One advantage to February being a short month is that the "rolling average reads per day", as it is called, was the highest ever, so my thanks go to both of you for reading.

I'm a little worried, however, that some of my recent visitors did not come to admire the poignant prose, but just to inspect the shape of my letters.

There is, I understand, a campaign going on on this World Wide Web thing, to outlaw letters of the shape I like to use for these epistles.  Well well, my my, how sad, what a pity, won't be changing!

You see, dear viewer, what should be important here are the words, not the shape of the letters which go to make them up.

Sorry madam, but to drift into technicalities for just a brief moment, it's what I say which should be of great import to you all, not whether I say it in Comic Sans or Haettenschweiler Bold.

Talking of words, watch out folks, convoluted link number eighty-three coming up, I've noticed a number of examples of the unusual use of words in the last few weeks.

In view of the date, perhaps I could start by returning to the Welsh for a few moments?

There is a wonderful phrase used in that Principality, normally in response to any question enquiring when something is to be done.  The reply is usually "Now, in a minute".

If you think that response through in a totally logical fashion, then your retort to the retort ought to be to enquire which of the answers to believe.

I mean, either they're going to do it now or they're going to do it in a minute, but surely the answer can't be both.

It's one of those regional quirks which are so fascinating to those of us with an inherent interest in such things.

Ask any Welshman what the response really means and he'll say "soon", which is pretty accurate.  I suppose it's whatever the opposite of a double meaning is; it's two different meanings indicating just the one thing.

And it's not just the Welsh, you know.  The Scots have their quirks as well.  Perhaps it's one of those "Celt" things?

I was reminded the other day of the Scots use of the word "stay".  I was doing a job near Edinburgh a few years back and was asked by a local "So where are you staying?", to which I replied "I'm not, I only flew up for the day".

After the confused looks on both our faces subsided, we finally had another try and it was at this point that I realised that the verb "to stay" in Scotland is the equivalent of the verb "to live" in England.

When you come to think about it, it's the Scots who are the totally logical ones in this example.  After all, you reside permanently at your home, but you're only temporarily in the hotel while you're on holiday, or away from home doing a job.  The word "stay" is a pretty permanent one, is it not?

Well, having managed to blame the Celts for all of this, so far, I've just remembered the most famous of all these quirks, which totally blows my theory, as it comes from Yorkshire.

Yorkshire folk seem to have something against the word "until".  They will use the word "while" instead.

"Thee can have a cup of tea, but you'll have to wait while pot boils" is pretty obvious, but how about "Thee can have a cup of tea, but you'll have to wait while our Harry gets back from shop with the teabags" gets closer to the realms of confusion.

But how about the level crossing sign?  "Please wait while red light shows" means UNTIL the red light shows to a Yorkshireman!

I've not seen any of the amended signs in the county, to avoid that dangerous confusion, but I'm told they're there, somewhere.

So, there we have it.  By the way, I forgot to mention earlier, but I think I'll make words the subject for in-depth analysis in this month's exciting edition of Comment.

Which brings us, I think, pretty close to a close.  After all, February's a short month, so you should only expect me to have time to bash out a short edition.  It's a pity you've got the whole of long, old March to read it in, but that's just another of these quirks, a quirky calendar.

That calendar will bring us to April 1st for the next edition, so don't be a fool and miss it!  I'd better get away now, I've got some Belfast to Newcastle translation to do for a mate.  Right, I'm off, where's me dictionary?

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