Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Who knows where the time goes?

Woman's Hour are currently talking about Sandy Denny and her role in the English folk music scene. They started the package by playing my all time number one favourite song in any genre ever* (hyperbole, moi?) 'Who knows where the time goes?'.

While Sandy's version is definitive, I don't care who sings it, I just love it.

The freelance writer/editor's anthem, perhaps? (as in, got to dash now, I've got to work on another project that's running late!)

*And hey, I know a few, having been a singer of all sorts of music for >30 years.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

So, is ‘Plan A’ a load of pants, Mr Rose?

Marks and Sparks is having a sale. Whoopie…

Well no, actually. I don’t think this is a ‘good thing’.
“Plan A is our five-year, 100-point 'eco' plan to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing our business and our world. It will see us working with our customers and our suppliers to combat climate change, reduce waste, safeguard natural resources, trade ethically and build a healthier nation.” (M&S Plan A website)

For a while I was willing to go along with their eco-hype. I agree with a lot of things that they’re doing. But the announcement today that they’re having a 20% off everything sale has undone all the good PR, as far as I’m concerned.

I know that we have to consume stuff; and choosing recyclable packaging is a good thing; and that trade (fair trade, that is) is a good thing for the developing world and for us here too. But the most pernicious problem (in the West) is that we all over-consume. Especially at Christmas. It makes me want to vomit.

Wouldn’t it be better for all of us, in the long run, if they sold fewer items of a higher quality at a slightly higher price?

I can’t help noticing that, since Plan A was introduced, the quality of M&S pants has gone right down. (I know Jeremy Paxman would agree with me! ) Sad to say, I’ve been buying the same old basic style for the past 20 years… And of course, these basics do wear out. I just wish they wouldn’t wear out so quickly these days. The fabric may be fair trade organic, but it’s not as thick (and strong) as it used to be, and the quality of the elastic would make Nora Batty turn in her grave (is she in her grave yet? Ah, Wikipedia suggests not… sorry)

[I see M&S has ‘relaunched’ its Plan A website too (old site vs new site; and why doesn’t the site URL appear in the title bar of Firefox? Strange.)]

What I really can’t bear is the vast quantity of totally unnecessary items (and their associated transportation, and packaging, and the transportation of the packaging…) that will be hauled from the shops today just because there’s 20% off. In my new local M&S yesterday (yes, I do go there – for mid-week fruit and veg shopping, because the big T killed off the local greengrocers years ago) they were ‘offering’ low-priced boxes of chocolates at the till. Over packaged; over priced; unnecessary*.

Minutes after I’d listened to two retail giants debate the ‘'Irrational' downturn in high street spending’ on Today this morning, the programme finished early to launch an emergency appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee to raise funds to help displaced and distressed people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Yet again, at Christmas time, I'm frustrated and fed up with it all. I don’t need any more unpleasantly perfumed and over-packaged hand creams, jumpers that don’t fit and have to be returned to the shops, or kitchen gizmos that gather dust.

Instead of feeding Mr Rose’s bank account today, I’m going to give my Christmas-present-fund to the appeal, and hope that my family will be happy with my home-baked cakes instead.

Bah humbug
Rant over!

* Mr Ms_well and I do enjoy choccies now and again. We once bought a fancy heart-shaped box from Thorntons, ate the contents and kept the packet. Now for anniversaries and whatnot, we buy lower priced bags of Fair Trade chocs and put them in the recycled fancy box. Stingy, but kinder to the environment (and our pockets).

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Guilty, m'lord

Popular wisdom (aka the media in its various guises) suggests that those who are raised in the Catholic faith have a tendency towards all-encompassing feelings of guilt and an ongoing urge to confess their sins.

But I don't think they don't hold an exclusive licence to such feelings: guilt, regret, and an inexplicable tendency to start 95% of all emails with the words "I'm sorry* I haven't…" are issues for us non-denominational-girls too**.

Having spouted off in this blog about my fellow editors and their scrupulous/unscrupulous behaviour, I'm now dreading the fallout and wishing I'd kept shtum. Oh woe. (In fact, I've now gone back and edited that item, to avoid potential problems.)

* Can't think where I picked up the habit, but I even tend to say "I'm sorry?" when I really mean "Pardon? What did you say?" It comes to something when I'm even apologising for my own lack of acuity… There's no hope, is there?

I worked in a pizza restaurant when I was a student and one customer had been a real pain. As he paid the bill he muttered something about the quality of the food/service. Wanting him to speak up a bit I said: "I'm sorry?" To which he swiftly replied: "So you should be!"

**[Also a tendency to over-use the word 'tendency'. Whoops.]

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Unhealthy competition among copy-editors

I really should be getting on with something else, but this has worked me up into such a froth that I need to get it off my chest…[Edited 15/11/08]

I’m a member (Advanced member, in fact) of a worthy organisation which, among other things, aims to raise professional standards for Es and Ps.

A few weeks ago, I received a round-robin email from this organisation containing a paid-for advertisement from a potential client seeking writers/editors to put on a “preferred supplier” list. The client in question is one I’ve been intending to contact for several years, and so I was eager to fill in the tender documents and get on their list. I’m already on similar lists, and have worked for a number of similar clients and I do reckon I’m pretty well qualified for that particular work.

I didn’t hear back from them, despite asking them to email me to confirm receipt of my submission, but I put that to the back of my mind until yesterday afternoon, when they sent out a message to all tenderers saying something like “we’ve been inundated with applicants, so many that we’re going to need extra time to sift and therefore have had to put back the planned interview dates”.

On the face of it, that’s fine. But this has got me worried.

This client is not a publisher; their work is in a neatly defined industrial sector (can’t go into detail for obvious reasons); they are used to dealing with high-level government officials, business leaders and expensive PR companies.

I’m worried about who has taken part in this tender, the quality of their submissions, and most important, the prices they’ve quoted.

Why? Well, in the past I’ve gone through a similar exercise myself in order to sub-contract work during busy periods. I’ve sent out a round-robin email to fellow editors/proofreaders and received a flood of replies. Out of 20 or 30 applicants, only two or three were (on paper) suitably qualified; and in one case I gave the work to someone who really didn’t turn out to be as good as I’d hoped.

I strongly suspect that the same gang will have been part of the flood of tenders to this client*. This worries me for two reasons:

• They will probably seriously undercut my (reasonable) rates, making it look like editors work for tuppence ha’penny, (and that I’m taking the p*** with my ‘professional’ rate).
• It undervalues the society's stance of ‘raising standards’ etc., because Uncle Tom Cobley and All may have applied, regardless of whether they are really suitable for the job.

What to do? I’m tempted to raise the issue on the organisation's email newsgroup, but things have become rather fractious there lately and I don’t want to stir up a hornets nest when I’m busy. Instead, I think I’ll send a quiet note to the appropriate committee member and see what they have to say.

I can see that the editors' organisation was happy to accept the money to cover the cost of the advert, but they could have been a bit more sophisticated about sending it out. They do have a directory of members where we all list our specialisms/keywords. So they could, for instance, have done a quick trawl and only contacted people with relevant experience/skills.

All of the above sounds like I’m a bitter old bat clinging on to a stronghold of lucrative clients against young upstarts who might do a better, cheaper job than me. Erm… partly true! (Not the ‘old’ bit… well, I’m probably just about still in the ‘youth’ wing of the organisation.)

But I do wonder whether I’ve shot myself in the foot by talking to fellow editors very publicly (e.g. at conference, in the members’ journal) about what I do. Have I made it sound like a gravy train that’s worth catching?

I’ve always been slightly concerned about that, and have tried to prevent it. For instance, the NUJ lists details of hourly or daily rates paid particular clients. I’ve spoken out in favour of sharing ‘rates’, but against naming the clients, because I reckon there are some unscrupulous so and sos who’d deliberately undercut me.

And now I’m faced with the prospect that this may, rather publicly, happen. Hmm.

Interestingly, earlier this year I took part in a similar process for a different client. I successfully made it onto the list, and the client let all the list members know who’d ‘won’. I was the only member of this particularly organisation on the list.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting I have a god-given right to this particular work; just that I'm worried about (unfair) competition, which may only increase as the recession bites and more hopefuls respond to those dreadful ads for 'profreeders'.

Not a good start to the day! But now I’d better get on with the work I do have, before it gets whisked from under my feet…

* I do know of one other person who’s involved who does have relevant experience.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Who will edit the editors?

It's all very well being a writer/editor, but it's pretty nigh impossible to edit your own words.

On several occasions I have embarrassed myself in editorial email fora/ums by accidentally mistyping, or scrambling my words as I edit and re-edit a message in the vain hope of ending up error-free. Now I find I'm doing it on my very own blog. Dammit.

If I wasn't trying to maintain my anonymity (for the precise reason that I don't want fellow editors to come here and carp), I'd offer a prize for readers who find errors. But I'd run out of prizes pretty quickly…

Editing someone else's writing is much easier, and I do have happy clients to prove it.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Phew! Thank goodness for that; but what sort of puppy should Obama pick?

I woke early and the Today programme on my bedside radio seemed particularly gloomy. No cheering crowds, no excited presenters. Half asleep, I thought McCain had won, and dozed for half an hour worrying about the future for global environmental politics (not to mention everything else). What a relief when the headlines came on at 7am.

My favourite line from Obama's victory speech:
"Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century." (my emphasis)

But that aside, the most pressing decision Obama now faces is what sort of dog he should get for his daughters!
"Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."
Much as I love my English Springer Spaniel, and he's great with people (especially kids), I don't think that would be an appropriate choice. A hound of traditional US pedigree might be advisable, but a rescue mut might be more politically sensitive. Who'd have thought that picking a puppy could be such a political decision?

And then there's the question of a name…

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Waiting, waiting, waiting, for the party to begin…

Turning on the Large Hadron Collider didn’t end the world, as some people had feared. But here we are, less than two months later, poised on the brink of another potentially world-changing event. Not sure I can take the strain of “Waiting, waiting, waiting…”*

Hot news is that Barack Obama has already won one race: in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, a town of only 21 voters. Turning the town Democrat for the first time since 1968, the electorate chose Obama by 15 votes to 6.

I’m surprised to see that some fellow UK-based bloggers/editors say they’re not interested in the election. Whichever way the voting goes, it’s unavoidable that the US presidential election will have a knock-on effect – for better or worse – on global politics and economics, not to mentioned environmental issues.

So I’m keeping my fingers (and everything else) crossed for a high turn-out and the right decision…

* First poem we had to learn in “Elocution” lessons, 30 years ago. (They really should have filled our growing minds with something more useful!)