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The Write Way

23 February 2007

Morris Dances


My very first car was a 1950-something, 2-door, side-valve Morris Minor with bright, fire-engine red duco. (You can see a photo in glorious black and white ... you'll just have to imagine the colour. In case you're wondering, the mark on the driver's door is the University of Sydney crest, which I thought looked pretty spiffy! There's a full-colour crest, so you can exercise your little grey cells for a moment to imagine how grand it looked against my red Morris ...)

I'd spent my first couple of years at Uni enduring the rigours of our public transport system, which meant a 15-minute walk to the train station, an hour's trip on one of Her Majesty's rattlers followed by a 20-minute walk to the university grounds. But all along I'd had A Plan and that was to buy myself a car. 

Because I was on a Teacher's Scholarship, the government paid my fees and also gave me a living allowance (and I use the term loosely). Back in the mid-sixties, this consisted of the princely sum of $14 ... a fortnight. I drew up a budget and worked out I could afford to save $10 a month and still pay my fares, have a pot of tea in the Ref, (if we ordered tea, we got a pot that you could sometimes squeeze two cups from, whereas if we ordered coffee, it came in a single cup), lash out on the occasional pair of shoes and even have enough left over to buy wool to knit jumpers for the Love of My Life. Yes, he'd already made an appearance in my life back then.

It took me a full year of stop-start saving, but I eventually had the requisite $100 to buy a car. One of my father's friends was a mechanic and to him fell the serious task of finding my First Car. It had to be something cheap to buy, maintain and run because $14 a fortnight doesn't stretch to many repairs.

After a month of agonising waiting until the Right One was found, Dad eventually got the phone call telling us we could drive over that night to collect the car, and as soon as I saw it I was in love. There's something very special about your first grown-up acquisition, isn't there? I think it was all the more special because it had taken me so long to save for it.

All went well for the first few weeks as I drove into the city in peak-hour traffic without a worry in the world. It was a bit of a worry in the rain because the windscreen wipers were vacuum-powered, and when I went up a hill or incline of any sort, the power was redirected to getting us up instead of to clearing that pesky water from the windscreen.

And occasionally the little indicator arm wouldn't slot back in after I'd turned a corner. But that wasn't too bad since it usually only happened on the driver's side, and I could easily stick my arm out the window and knock it back in.

But what caused me real angst was when one of its mechanical bits decided to sulk, and the engine would just sputter to a halt if I stopped at traffic lights and pedestrian crossings or lingered longer than I should at a corner. The only way to remedy this was to give the thingummy a bit of a rap. So I became very adept at leaping from the car wielding a large spanner, hoisting the bonnet, giving the thing a good hard whack, slamming the bonnet down and the returning to the driver's seat in one graceful bound. (If you're somewhat bewildered by all these technical terms, relax. This week's quiz will sort the men from the boys before you can say carburettor ... or carburetor for our 'Murkin cousins!)


I look back now and wonder how I didn't get run over or at least turned to a pillar of salt by all the evil looks directed my way by those drivers unfortunate enough to find themselves behind me as the Morris and I danced our way into the city. 

After a couple of tries, our mechanic friend finally got this little problem sorted out, and the Morris and I enjoyed two whole years of trouble-free motoring, as the car ads are wont to term it. But at the end of my final year, the LoML and I decided that two could live as cheaply as one (which back then in my little world meant we got married), so it was time to bid farewell to my trusty companion.

I spread the word that the Morris was looking for a new home and tried to come up with a fair way to choose its new owner. The only way was to give it to whomever handed over the money first.

Ah! Yes, I can see you looking sideways at that and wondering, is it or isn't it?

We're right in using the indefinite relative pronoun here, but which one, dear reader, which one? Whomever or whoever?

You use the -ever suffix when who or whom can fit into two clauses in the sentence.

e.g. The only way was to give it to whoever/whomever handed over the money first.

You can break this into two sentences (substituting the pronouns he/him for who/whom): 

The only way was to give it to him. He handed over the money first.

OK, so far, so good, but that still doesn't solve the problem of whoever/whomever. What we need is A Rule ... so here it is:

him + he = whoever
him + him = whomever

The only way was to give it to whoever handed over the money first.

Yes, I know that goes against what you think when you see that preposition to lurking in the sentence, but the object of the preposition is not just the relative pronoun "whoever." The object of the preposition is the entire noun clause "whoever (he) handed over the money first."

These two examples should illustrate this:

Example 1

We will see whoever/whomever you want.
We will see him. You want him.
him + him = whomever

We will see whomever you want.

Example 2

We will invite whoever/whomever is most interesting.
We will invite him. He is most interesting.
him + he = whoever

We will invite whoever is most interesting.


Hardly a challenge, is it?

I do apologise if you read the title to this week's ramble and expected to read about one of those quaint "springtime rituals where dancers wear dozens of bells on each leg, wield sticks and/or handkerchiefs and dance to lively folk tunes." That'd be the Morris Dancers ... like these.  

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This week's quiz:

Let's see if you know the pointy end from the blunt end of your vehicle. Try your hand at these automotive terms:

calibrate, alternator, babbitt, anneal, tachometer, arcing, baffle, camber, differential, pawl 

1. a flat plate that controls or directs the flow of fluid or energy;  barrier used to reduce noise in an enclosed system, such as the exhaust system 

2. section of the rear-axle assembly that provides three functions: it allows the wheels to revolve at different speeds during turns, provides the final gear reduction, and changes the angle of drive 90 degrees; a bevel gear that permits rotation of two shafts at different speeds; used on the rear axle of automobiles to allow wheels to rotate at different speeds on curves 

3. check, test, or adjust the initial settings of a unit or system 

4. supplies electric power for the vehicle's electric systems and also recharges the battery when the engine is running 

5. outward or inward tilt of the wheels, in degrees, on a vehicle as viewed from the rear or front 

6. an alloy of tin with some copper and antimony; an anti-friction lining for bearings 

7. heat-treatment process to reduce hardness or brittleness, relieve stresses, facilitate cold working, or produce a desired microstructure or property; toughen (steel or glass) by a process of gradually heating and cooling 

8. a hinged catch that fits into a notch of a ratchet to move a wheel forward or prevent it from moving backward; ratchet tooth that is used to lock a device 

9. instrument used to measure engine speed 

10. applies to the spark that occurs in an electrical circuit in an air gap, such as a spark plug - ARCING

Here are some other handy terms for those of you who like to mess around in sheds:

HAMMER: Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of divining rod to locate expensive car parts not far from the object we are trying to hit.

VISE-GRIPS: Used to round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

TROUBLE LIGHT: The mechanic's own tanning booth. Sometimes called a drop light, it is a good source of vitamin D, "the sunshine vitamin," which is not otherwise found under cars at night. Health benefits aside, its main purpose is to consume 40-watt light bulbs at about the same rate that 105mm howitzer shells might be used during, say, the first few hours of the Battle of the Bulge. More often dark than light, its name is somewhat misleading.

PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER: Normally used to stab the lids of old-style paper-and-tin oil cans and splash oil on your shirt; can also be used, as the name implies, to round off Phillips screw heads.

Last week's quiz:

ad valorem, collateral, annuity, debenture, equity, abandonment, collusion, gazump, lien, actuary

1. professional person qualified to apply mathematical principles to solving long-term financial problems, primarily in connection with pensions, life insurance and investment - ACTUARY

2. turning damaged property over to an insurer and claiming its full value; the elimination of an asset or property from use; the refusal of a shipment, because of damage, by the person who is authorised to ship it - ABANDONMENT (And also how you feel after a close encounter with your bank ...)

3. value of a business after all debts and other claims are settled; the amount of cash a business owner invests in a business and/or the difference between the price for which a property could be sold and the total debts registered against it - EQUITY

4. secret agreement between two or more persons to defraud another person of his or her rights in order to obtain and unlawful objective - COLLUSION

5. taxes which are charged as a percentage of the value of an asset. Stamp Duty, which is charged on transfers of shares and property is an example  - AD VALOREM

6. long-term loan to a company, usually at a fixed rate of interest and for a specific term - DEBENTURE

7. the right to take another's property if an obligation is not discharged - LIEN

8. property (real, personal or otherwise) pledged as security for a loan - COLLATERAL

9. raise the price of something after agreeing on a lower price - GAZUMP

10. life insurance product which pays income over the course of a set period - ANNUITY

A story about the importance of meanings ...

"You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen, it said 'Parking Fine.' So that was nice."

And here's a handy tip for those who are direction-challenged: "When out driving always turn left. Then, should you become lost, you can find your way home by reversing the procedure and always turning right."


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An Ape that wants to play Hamlet after being type-cast as King Kong, a talking anvil and that rottweiller ... Dr Morgenes is still caught in the nightmare that is the casting couch. Help him find a plot!  Just click on the Comments button at the end of the entry to add your contribution. If you have friends who fancy themselves as writers, invite them to contribute (just forward this newsletter in its entirety to them).

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A Little Something Extra

We've been pondering the propulsion of my Morris Minor with its massive 27.5 horsepower engine, and that reminded me of another engine that's been visiting our fair shores this week, so here's a little test for you:

What's 72 m tall (236 ft), 345 m long (1,132 ft), consumes 6,000 eggs a day and has a mind-boggling 157,000 horses champing at the bit?

Give up?

Click here to find out all about the world's most luxurious ocean liner.  

Word of the week: Nugatory (adj) of no real value; trifling; worthless; of no force or effect; ineffective; futile; vain;  insignificant; inconsequential

This expressive little word comes to us from the Latin (where else) nugatorius, from nugari meaning "to trifle," which in turn comes from nugae meaning "jests, trifles."

I'm sure you'll find more than one occasion to think this (even if you don't actually say it) in the coming week. Life is filled with nugatory moments!

Oxymoron of the week: simple car repair

And a Latin phrase you may hear when your car is purring along the open road ...

Nos opertuit tunc vertisse

[NOHS oh-per-TOO-eet TOONK wayr-TEES-say]

(We ought to have made that turn)

Did you know that you can have your very own Latin reminders? How about undies proclaiming, Bene est rex esse? (It's good to be king) Or a shopping bag that warns, Emptrix nata sum (Born to shop)? Click here for these and more.  


Kind regards,


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Copyright 2007 Jennifer Stewart

Individual articles copyrighted by their authors.