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The Write Way

4 March  2005

If I Had a Hammer ...


I had a distress call from Lavinia during the week. It seems she and Raoul have been renovating, and now that the worst of the building and mess is over, it's time for the fun part. So she'd been out and bought a surprise for Raoul's new office - a natty little cabinet with lots of drawers and shelves for him to store part of his collection of thingummies. (She once tried to explain exactly what it was he collected, but I got lost somewhere between arcane artifacts and antique Bedouin fish hooks. My very favourite piece in Raoul's eclectic collection has to be his ancient Egyptian CD holder, which he told me with a straight face was authentic!)


Lavinia had seen this particular cabinet in a shop display and knew immediately it would look a treat under the new wall with the trompe l'oeil craggy mountain top. So without a moment's hesitation, she swept into the shop, whipped out her fantastic plastic, paid for it and organised for delivery mid-week.

Imagine her surprise when she took possession, not of the chunky cabinet she'd been expecting, but of a flat cardboard box. Yes, dear reader, she'd bought a flat pack DIY cabinet ... And her call to me came hot on the heels of the delivery men's departure.

We surveyed the box from all angles as it sat smugly on the sunroom floor, then retreated to the kitchen to regroup, formulate a plan and fortify ourselves with a nice cup of green tea. We'd both filled our daughters' lives with choruses of Girls Can Do Anything, so with a cheery Hi-Ho we swigged the last of our tea, grabbed a sharp knife to cut open the box and sallied forth to face the challenge.

Removing the contents resulted in just one casualty, Lavinia chipped her nail polish, but we're nothing if not troopers and undeterred we soldiered on to the next phase - deciphering the instructions. But first we had to see what we had to work with ...

My job was to sort out the various components in our box of goodies, laying out the rows of teensy screws, nuts, bolts and tools in ascending order of size. Then Lavinia tackled the larger pieces ... timber, plastic, brass ... First she sorted them according to size, then according to composition, then shape, before deciding it looked much nicer the way she'd first had it. By this time we were both feeling peckish, so we abandoned our building efforts in favour of lunch - a tasty salad on the back terrace with a nice glass of Something Light to wash it down.

Then it was back to the fray!

Where were we? That's right ... Instructions!

While smoothing out the various sheets of tissue-thin paper, Lavinia furrowed her little brow a number of times as she turned the diagram first one way then another until it sort of matched with the well-ordered collection of bits and pieces we had so attractively laid out across the sunroom floor and just a little way up the hall.

Time passed ...

We'd managed to get the shell put together and were starting on all the little interior bits. This entailed making use of an assortment of tools we'd found in a cupboard covered in cobwebs at the back of the garage (Mr Fixit, Raoul is not ...) Lavinia manouevred the aforementioned teensy bolts from the outside of our creation into nuts that I had waiting in very cramped conditions on the inside, and it was my task to hold these with a pair of pliers while she screwed them in tightly.  

After a few giggled comments about butter fingers as we chased errant nuts across the tiled floor, we soon had all the front bolts securely attached, then came the ones right at the back of the inside of the top part of the cabinet ... And yes, in hindsight we can both see that possibly it would have been easier to have fixed these into position before we screwed and glued the top shelves ... But there you are ...

So we carried on with the system that had worked so admirably up till this point: I reached in and positioned the nuts so Lavinia could insert the bolts, then I held each nut secure with the pliers while she turned it with the spanner ... I held and she turned ... and I held and she turned ... but this time the bolt was still loose.

"Must have stripped the bore," I muttered, trying unsuccessfully to remember terms I'd heard my husband use. So we found another nut and bolt and repeated the process but alas and alack the result was the same.

After several more attempts we finally twigged that there were in fact two spots for bolts at this part of the construction, and I'd spent the past 20 minutes gripping one while she'd been turning another.

Sigh ...

We decided that discretion was the better part of valour, so we hid the whole thing in the shed and reconvened the following morning after Raoul had left for work. This time, we had more success and the whole thing came together rather well, if we do say so ourselves ... and what's more there's just three bits left over.

Well, our excuse is two days of forced labour ... And naturally, in the normal course of events, neither of us would dream of making such a coarse grammatical error. We know as well as you do that when you use 'there,' the subject follows the verb. Yes, I know you were taught to ask 'who' or 'what' before the verb to find the subject ... but 'there' is special!

... there's just three bits left over.

The verb is IS ... but the question is, what is left over? Answer: three bits ... plural. And in English, the subject takes precedence over the verb, so we change the verb to suit the subject:

... there ARE just three bits left over.

Don't forget you can show off your admirable grasp of English grammar by adding your tuppence worth to the Never-Ending Story: (Use the Comments button at the end of the entry to add your contribution.)

Last week, I wrote, "Our next move was interstate to a major regional city in Queensland (where it was always possible to find an alternate route around the city centre, even at peak times)..." 

And Perry Gretton rightly took me to task, "Surely not "alternate", but "alternative". I know "alternate" seems to be regarded as a synonym to "alternative" by many Americans, but I thought the distinction still remained for pedants like me."

AskOxford dictionary lists the meanings for alternate (vb): 1 occur or do in turn repeatedly. 2 change repeatedly between two contrasting conditions

(adj) 1 every other. 2 (of two things) each following and succeeded by the other in a regular pattern

And gives this usage note: The use of alternate to mean alternative (as in we will need to find alternate sources of fuel) is common in North American English, though still regarded as incorrect by many in Britain.

ORIGIN Latin alternare ‘do by turns’, from alter ‘other’.

And for alternative (adj): 1 (of one or more things) available as another possibility. 2 (of two things) mutually exclusive. 3 departing from or challenging traditional practices.

And gives this interesting usage note: Some people maintain that you can only have a maximum of two alternatives (because the word alternative comes from Latin alter ‘other of two’). References to more than two alternatives are, however, normal in modern standard English.

So while my usage would have been correct if lived in the US, it was not correct out here in the Antipodes!

This week's quiz:

OK ... go and get your little hammer, we have some more building to tackle ... Match up these words with their meanings below:

lintel, balusters, joist, flue, dado, dormer, flashing, grout, jamb, lath

1. mortar made of such consistency (by adding water) that it will just flow into the joints and cavities of the masonry work and fill them solid 

2. a gabled extension built out from a sloping roof to accommodate a vertical window 

3. one of a series of parallel beams used to support floor and ceiling loads and supported in turn by larger beams, girders or bearing walls 

4. a railing at the side of a staircase or balcony to prevent people from falling 

5. a horizontal structural member that supports the load over an opening such as a door or window 

6. the space or passage in a chimney through which smoke, gas or fumes ascend 

7. a rectangular groove across the width of a board or plank; in interior decoration, a special type of wall treatment 

8. sheet metal or other material used in roof and wall construction to protect a building from water seepage 

9. a building material of wood, metal, gypsum or insulating board that is fastened to the frame of a building to act as a plaster base 

10. the side and head lining of a doorway, window or other opening - JAMB

If you're anything like me, then you probably have a pile of books, articles and magazines or reports, papers and proposals glowering at you because you promised faithfully you'd get round to reading them ... but you just don't have the time.

How would you like to increase your reading speed and comprehension skills so you can read and enjoy all of them?

You would? Then here's something you'll be interested in! You see, I've done been doing some editing work for an educational company that has a great software program designed to help you read faster. And I know all the content is suitable because I've read it all, and I know the methods work because I've played with them all!

If you think you (or your children) would benefit from being able to read faster and understand what is read, then click here and you'll get 15% off the normal price for this software. To receive your discount, you must order from the link I've given you, so if you go off to investigate the program more fully, remember to return to the original link to claim your discount! Click here: 

This is an excellent program for use in the class room and there's a special price for bulk orders, so if you're a teacher, a parent helping provide resources for your child's school or a home-schooling parent, this could be a way to help all the children you work with increase their reading speed and comprehension skills. It costs nothing to have a look! 

And speaking of teaching aids for classroom teachers and home schooling parents, this week's Little Something Extra will be a boon!

I'm sure you've seen this little story before ... but I always get a chuckle from it:

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day. "In English," he said, "A double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."

Last week's quiz:

claustrophobic, uxorious, fraternise, regalia, regal, uxorial, acrophobic, pyromaniacal, dipsomania, fraternal, agoraphobic, incendiary, arson

1. to socialise - FRATERNISE

2. full dress, with ribbons, insignia etc - REGALIA

3. having a compulsion to set fires - PYROMANIACAL

4. characteristic of being a wife - UXORIAL

5. felony of burning property for profit - ARSON

6. morbidly dreading wide-open spaces - AGORAPHOBIA

7. alcoholism - DIPSOMANIA

8. excessively indulgent to one's wife - UXORIOUS

9. kingly, royal; splendid - REGAL

10.person who sets fires for revenge - INCENDIARY

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A Little Something Extra

Genealogy is an extremely popular pastime these days - and for good reason. We all like to feel a connection with the Past ... it makes us feel more confident about the Future!

So this week's Little Something Extra is going to be a wonderful help for all of you who are collecting stories for your writing. It's a book by Robert B. Gentry called simply Tips for Collecting Stories and it takes you through all the essential steps to gather and organise useful information for your History.

What I really like about Bob's book is that he sets his chapters out using bullets - a man after my own heart! If I had a dollar for every bullet I drew on the board in my Other Life as a teacher, my Running Away Fund would be overflowing! So this little book is a brilliant teaching aid for all of the chalkies in our midst.

Here are a couple of tips I'm sure Bob won't mind me sharing with you: 

The ideal interview is one in which you listen - this simple advice will help you get unexpected information from your subject. Instead of having a list of questions you MUST get answered, let your subject tell you things as he/she remembers them ... you'll be delighted at what this simple technique will uncover!

Ask open-ended questions not closed ones - and this tip is useful in every social gathering. Who among us hasn't spent an agonising few minutes being quizzed by someone asking questions to which there's only a yes/no response?

Here are some examples of open questions Bob gives in his book:

What games did you play as a child?

What do you remember about school?

You can see how these questions could lead to wonderful recollections. Notice that you don't ask for any specific type of answer ... you don't ask about the best games you played or your favourite subject at school ... You ask general questions and let your subject decide whether they are positive or negative memories.

One you've accumulated all your information, the next step is to decide how you're going t put it all together and Bob shows an effective way to do this, then he takes you step by step through his own book, in order to, as he says:

" ... explain how I developed an extensive oral history and show you how the process unfolded ..."

If you're just starting to collect information about your family or if you're ready to write a history, you'll find this book invaluable.

Think this isn't for you? Think again ... Can you see yourself being interested in collecting stories from your family, your school, your business, your church, your club, society, association, athletic team, sport team or just about any other group you belong to?

What about collecting stories from people united by an event, a time or a place?

F'r instance:

  • eyewitnesses to a recent (or past) tragedy

  • veterans of a particular war or battle

  • people involved in home front activities during a war

  • women or men in non-traditional roles

  • survivors of life-threatening illnesses

  • etc

Bob gives many more suggestions for these broader categories of oral history ... It's enough to make you want to get out these and listen!

Read more about Tips for Collecting Stories here: 

Word of the week: Ingravescent (a) - increasing in severity. 

This is really a medical term used for illnesses, a patient's morbid condition or disease, but what a good word to describe our recent trials and tribulations ...

"How's the cabinet coming along, Lavinia?"

"Oh, ingravescent ... definitely ingravescent!"

This one comes from the Latin gravis meaning heavy.

Oxymoron of the week: easy instructions

And after all that building, here's a useful Latin phrase!

Da mihi sis cerevisiam dilutam. (I'll have a light beer.)

[DAH mee-HEE SEES say-ray-wee-SEE-ahm dee-LOO-tahm]

Kind regards,


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