I’ve avoided making any comments at all on the forthcoming EU referendum. I’ve done it deliberately.

There’s been no rational debate. Just mud slinging, name-calling and fear-mongering.

From both sides.

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A major problem with the debating process

It’s been like listening to a group of kids in a school playground where the loudest voice is king.

So if you say anything on social media you get people telling you you’re wrong.

Seriously!?! I’m wrong for holding an opinion?

Surely that’s the whole point of debate (and, you could argue, democracy).

People are allowed to hold a different opinion. (And I’ll let you into a little secret – an opinion is all it is. It’s all based on arbitrary figures, dependent on a person’s methods, beliefs and influences. So it’s, at best, just a decent guess.)

Something else I’ve noticed clearly is that people don’t listen to understand.

They listen to respond.

So there’s never any point where they consider the other side’s view.

They just think of a bigger / scarier / more outrageous fact to throw at their opponent.

It’s sad. It’s divisive and it’s not acceptable any longer.

We need to stop people preying on fear.

Where are all the intelligent arguments for the positives of staying or leaving the European Union?

It’s been very difficult to find any commentator who has been rational and forensic about the forthcoming vote.

It will have a huge impact on the future of our country, perhaps for generations.

If you can’t see your way to a sensible, non-hysterical debate try thinking of your children.

Imagine them in the room as you start frothing at the mouth.

Hopefully that should help you maintain a modicum of common sense.

We should all be free to vote however our opinion tells us to.

That’s the power of democracy.

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The basis of a free democracy

Respect each other. Even if you disagree with each other.

Our ancestors fought wars for the right to vote and for the right to freedom.

We, currently, show no respect for their sacrifice.

We have turned into a country unable to have a rational debate. We’re in danger of creating a schism in our society we never fully recover from.

Don’t listen to the loudest voices.

Listen to the quietest ones.

Because they’re confident in their beliefs so they don’t need to shout about it.

If you only ever listen to the loudest voices you’ll live their life.

If you listen to the quiet ones you’re free to choose the path you want.

I almost signed off by saying may the best campaign win. But, sadly, I think that would mean no one would win.

Each of us can make a difference to the debate.

We can behave reasonably.

Remember to respect each other.

And remember there are no absolutes.

It’s all just a big mess of grey.

Cast your vote how you want to.

And remember when it’s all over, just because someone didn’t vote the same way you did, that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. They just have different views to you.

The government seems to be unsure of how to educate children nowadays. They seem to think that constantly putting children under pressure is a good way for them to start life.

Everybody is a genius

We should all aim to inspire, whenever we can

Don’t get me wrong, learning to cope with pressure is an important part of any person’s development. But having children learn about things that are completely unnecessary is counterproductive. It harms confidence and can lead to children thinking they’re “not smart”. Everyone is smart – they might just be better at things that don’t involve knowing what a fronted adverbial is.

Yoda Star Wars Education Fronted Adverbials

Yoda channels the force of fronted adverbials

My own daughter is now at secondary school and I’m seeing for myself the sometimes disjointed approach to learning. And it’s tough as a parent to not react to some of the crazy decisions that are made. Don’t get me wrong – there are a huge number of teachers who do a great job. But the government’s ‘test everything to death’ approach surely doesn’t help? I spotted a clarion call against this sort of madness on The Writer website (which is always worth a visit). They looked at the requirements of the SATs that kids sit. And the English test looks like a) a nightmare and b) a bit of a waste of time.

They quite rightly point out that many, many writers (OK, almost all of us) don’t know every granular detail of grammar. They also point out that spelling and grammar are important – they’re the basic fundamentals of how we communicate when we’re writing. But being a good writer is more than knowing the rules. It’s connecting with your audience. Giving them something they’ll be interested in. Writing it in a way that appeals to them. And it’s fun. It really is. (Or it bloody well should be.)

So here’s The Writer’s article, reproduced in full. If you have a child taking SATs you really want to read this. Then give your kid a hug and let them read it too.

 

A letter to primary school children in England

Dear kids,

We’ve heard all about the spelling and grammar test you have to do as part of your SATs. We think it sounds pretty tough.

Not just the test itself, but all the months you’ve spent learning about things like fronted adverbials and expanded noun phrases and subordinating conjunctions. We’re willing to bet you wish you’d spent a bit less time doing that, and more time making up funny poems, or writing your own adventure stories.

Well, there’s something we wanted to tell you.

We asked our team of 15 professional writers whether they knew what a fronted adverbial was. How many do you think said ‘yes’?

One. And that’s because she has a daughter in primary school, just like you.

The rest of us didn’t have a clue. Remember, we all earn our living from writing, and helping other people to write better. And we’ve all managed to get this far without the words ‘fronted adverbial’ ever entering our minds.

We did try, honest. We looked up ‘fronted adverbials’ online, and spent a good few minutes frowning and scratching our heads. We couldn’t really understand it, and then we decided not to worry about it anyway, because fronted adverbials make sentences sound a bit weird, like they were written by Yoda from the Star Wars films, and we went off to make a cup of tea instead.

All this isn’t to say spelling and grammar aren’t important

They are. Our writers all know where to put apostrophes, and what semicolons are for.

And we understand how grammar choices can affect how writing comes across to the reader. Like how passive sentences can be unclear or – worse – make it seem like you’re trying to hide something.

But we don’t know what every single little grammar thing is called. And we don’t need to.

Trust us. We’ve helped thousands of grown-ups all over the world get better at writing. And we’re going to tell you the same thing we tell them: it’s okay to sound like yourself when you write.

You don’t need to use long, complicated words to sound important. You don’t need to use fronted adverbials or expanded noun phrases to be a good writer (we think you’ll be a better writer if you don’t). And it doesn’t matter if you wouldn’t recognise a subordinating conjunction if it clonked you over the head.

If you find those things hard, it doesn’t mean you’re no good at writing.

What makes someone a good writer?

You’re a good writer if you sound like a human being, not a robot. (Unless, of course, you’re writing a story about robots.)

You’re a good writer if you’re kind to your reader: if you don’t write long, boring sentences, or bang on for pages without getting to the point.

You’re a good writer if you have something interesting to say, and you’re not afraid to say it.

You’re a good writer if you make your reader change their mind about something. Or look at something differently. Or do something they might not have done otherwise.

You’re a good writer if you can make your reader feel happy. Or sad. Or indignant. Or motivated. Or reassured.

You’re a good writer if you can keep your reader interested, even if you’re writing about something really boring, like gas pipes, or tax.

You’re a good writer if you can take something really, really complicated, and explain it so simply that your granny could understand it.

And, most importantly, you’ll be a good writer if you enjoy writing, have fun with words and even break the odd rule now and again.

Don’t worry about the test. Really.

Love,

The Writer

 

And to all those who think it’s disgraceful that people don’t know every detail of grammar, I point you in the direction of the genius that was Dr Seuss:

Dr Seuss Cat In The Hat Truer Than True Youer Than You

He was pretty successful and had an astonishing connection with his readers. He made up words, constructed sentences with fun in mind and blew a giant raspberry at dull writing. Long live creativity and writing that sets out to entertain and engage. And, as for teaching primary school children about minute intricacies of grammar, well I’m not at all in favour of it.

Father Ted Down With This Sort of Thing Craggy Island Protest

Careful now

 

Volvo has launched a great initiative called LifePaint. It’s come from their belief that road safety shouldn’t just be for the few, but for everyone.

Like all great ideas this invention is brilliantly simple.

It’s a spray can that has smart water in it. You spray it onto your clothes or your bike frame. It’s invisible during the day, but becomes highly reflective when headlights hit it. It’s water-soluble and it lasts about one week from when it’s sprayed on.

Now you see it, now you don’t

It’s part of Volvo’s stated aim that: “By 2020, no person will be killed, or seriously injured, by a new Volvo.”

And you can’t argue with the results.

The spray makes cyclists far more visible. And that’s surely got to be a good thing.

Highly visible when headlights hit the spray

Highly visible when headlights hit the spray

Or so you’d think. While researching this article, I came across a group of people who think that this is a bad idea. And they’re all cyclists. They argue that this is part of the automotive industry’s plan to blame everyone except car drivers. Which I just don’t get. Volvo doesn’t appear, to me, to be blaming anyone. They seem to be genuinely trying to make a difference.

Surely anything that makes cycling safer has got to be a good thing?

Some protesters have suggested that Volvos should be sprayed with LifePaint. Others argue that the paint isn’t particularly effective.

Even the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) seem to be against the paint.

Rosie Downes, Campaign Manager at the London Cycling Campaign, says:

“Life Paint and its accompanying marketing campaigning is a slick idea, but will it reduce road danger? We don’t think so: collisions aren’t caused by cyclists not wearing reflective paint.

“The video tells us that cyclists need to make themselves visible, but neglects to mention that drivers who are not paying attention can and do hit anyone, whatever they are wearing. The money spent on this campaign – and on the product itself – could be much better spent on concrete measures to reduce road danger, by improving street design and tackling driver behaviour – not giving drivers a reason to take less care.”

I don’t see it as giving drivers another reason to take less care.

I see it as a great idea that’s part of the solution to making roads safer. I absolutely agree that driver education is the way forward. But enforcement by the police would make a big difference.

How often do you see people on their phones? How often do you see people in slow-moving traffic texting or using their phones to get online? How often do people drive without paying attention?

These are the things we need to eradicate.

Here’s a great advert from Tower Hamlets that shows how dangerous texting is while driving (it’s as dangerous as driving drunk!). They’ve simplified the problem and then exaggerated it, creating a hugely powerful image that hammers home the point.

Simple yet hugely powerful

Simple yet hugely powerful

Volvo has a history of safety firsts. They’ve been responsible for many safety features we all take for granted nowadays. The first three-point seatbelt. First rear-facing child seat. First to offer side-impact airbags. First to offer a blind-spot information system (that really benefitted cyclists). The list goes on. They are true innovators. You can see more of what they’ve created in this timeline video.

This history of innovation in safety has underpinned their advertising for a long time. I think LifePaint is another area where they’re trying to use smart thinking to make the roads safer. Here are some previous examples:

Designed to crumple and protect the occupants

Designed to crumple and protect the occupants

Volvo cotton wool

Simplify, then exaggerate

A great thought that won loads of awards

A great thought that won loads of awards

One of my writing heroes, putting his money where his mouth is

One of my writing heroes, putting his money where his mouth is

There are a huge number of things we need to improve to help make our roads safer. Driver behaviour and concentration have to be at the top of the list. But anything I can do to improve my chances of being seen while I’m cycling is a great idea by me.

And I think that LifePaint is a great idea. Let’s not forget, Volvo is under no obligation to do this. So let’s try and not be cynical. Let’s embrace a great idea that will help cyclists be more visible and safer.

The heart-throb singer from 1D (that’s One Direction for those of us outside their target demographic) has done an awesome thing on the stage at his gig.

While they were on tour in Philadelphia Harry noticed a fan holding a sign that read:

“Hi Harry! Your so nice”

It was held by a 16-year-old at the concert, Taelor Ford.

Harry asked for security to bring the sign to him.

And then he took a marker pen and corrected the spelling.

Excellent work sir.

Harry Styles the teacher

Harry Styles the teacher

If people who youngsters look up to can show that language is important, it’s fantastic. I realise that I’m at risk of sounding like a stickler for spelling and grammar, but come on – it’s not that hard.

Especially your versus you’re.

One indicates possession.

The other’s a contraction of you are.

Here’s another example of how punctuation can derail what you’re trying to communicate.

The power of punctuation

The power of punctuation

It’s a very powerful example of how meaning can change depending on your punctuation. And why you should make sure that every mark you place on the page is doing a job for you.

But it can also cost you a fortune. There’s a legal case from Canada where two companies were arguing over a contract and the outcome came down to the position of one comma. The outcome meant a $1 million (Canadian) windfall for the winners of the case. All because of one comma.

Punctuation is derided and made fun of – marginalised by many and ignored by a few. But it’s a vitally important part of how we make sure we’re understood. And few things look worse than incorrect punctuation on your company’s website (belonging to your company, not many companies – something a few people online fail to notice on a regular basis).

Get it right. Otherwise you’re sure to lose business (and face). Then we might have to send Harry and the boys round.