Clarity. Expressed.

Helping people to write more clearly

Foreigners and Greenhouses

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Green-minded environmentalists that we are, when we wanted to get rid of an old greenhouse that was taking up space in the garden (a space, moreover, that was excitingly close to the children’s trampoline) we put up an ad on the Brecon and Hay Freecycle website.

Time passed, and eventually we had an email from ‘Zoltan’ asking if we still had the greenhouse. Excellent! ‘Yes’ we replied, and waited with baited breath for him to turn up and remove it. With a name like Zoltan, we imagined an enterprising, probably Polish, bloke who would take it off our hands and use it to start up a suitably agricultural small local business.

Sure enough, one afternoon a young man with a thick foreign accent turned up. He didn’t have much English, but we could make out enough to understand that he was asking where he could find the greenhouse. Zoltan, at last! Bless him, we thought, he’s brought his girlfriend with him to check it out as well, for sure enough, the pair of them had turned up – on bicycles, of all things.

‘They probably just want to look at it, before deciding whether to take it or not’ explained my wife. So I invited the young man to follow me through to the back garden, where I proudly showed him our greenhouse. ‘It’s missing a pane of glass here and there,’ I explained, ‘But it’s in pretty good condition. We don’t use it for much, so as a rule the cat tends to sleep there in the day’, and I pointed out our pet cat, snoozing in the dry soil.

Zoltan looked horrified. He started to demur in some garbled foreign tongue. Perhaps he didn’t think it could be dismantled, I thought. ‘Look down here’, I said, pointing at the rusty screw heads, ‘You just have to undo a few of these and then you can dismantle the rest of it and take it with you’. Zoltan’s objections increased in pitch and his girlfriend wore a look of appalled fascination on her face. ‘We want the greenhouse’ he claimed, confusing me still further. If he wanted the bloody thing why did he seem so reluctant to take it? ‘Yes, yes – it’s yours’ I told him, ‘Nobody else wants it so it’s yours; OK?’

‘No, we don’t want’ the girlfriend said, quite firmly. ‘We want the greenhouse’ – one of us was clearly barking mad, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t me. But then she held out a scrap of paper. Examining it, I saw some writing in French and the words ‘The Green House – B and B’ with a very local postcode.

The penny finally dropped, like a jackpot from a Las Vegas fruit machine. They’d been asking for directions to a nearby Bed and Breakfast, while I was apparently trying to put them up in a small greenhouse that was occasionally used as a cat’s boudoir. No wonder the girlfriend looked so appalled – this was worse than anything anyone in France could have imagined about the filthy English. Switching from English into stumbling French (well, I like to think it’s French. My wife has other words for it) we explored the linguistic trap we’d fallen into – ‘hébergement‘ came unbidden to my mind as the French equivalent of overnight accommodation, while a greenhouse, it turned out, is ‘sere‘ in French. Oh how we laughed, albeit in two different languages.

‘We wanted a place to stay,’ giggled the French girlfriend ‘And you wanted to put us in the shit’.

‘I think you mean shed…’ I offered, before we could explore yet another linguistic trap. But I suppose she had a point.

Written by Mark Hainge

13 August 2014 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Language

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Groovy Boots

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It’s been too quiet for too long in this bit of the internet.  But there’s a good reason.  I’ve been exploring the world of video production, on the basis that if a picture really does paint a thousand words then a series of them might well cover a considerable area of ground.

Care is needed, though.  It’s too easy to succumb to the lures of glitzy special effects, allowing form to overpower substance.  Or to let the video ramble on for ages, losing your viewers’ attention.  The trick is to keep it clear and simple.  A great mate (Mark Foden of FodenGrealy Ltd) invited me to work with him on a project to produce a video, and in our pre-production chat over a couple of pints down the pub we decided to follow two key principles:

  • Make everything as simple as possible – but no simpler (Albert Einstein)
  • Take the time to make everything as short as possible (adapted from Mark Twain)

So what happened then?  Well, in the interests of keeping everything simple and short, you can find the story here.

With a bit of luck, we’ll be making some more before too long.

Written by Mark Hainge

1 July 2014 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Form, General

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Simple, Catchy Videos?

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Well, after a brief pause for thought – followed immediately by a considerably longer one for action – Mark Foden (of previous posts here) and I have created some simple, catchy videos that explain complicated stuff.  I wish I could claim the credit for all of the videos but only one of them bears the marks of my involvement.

You can view the first fruits of this splendid new venture here, and if you’d like to find out more about it then just get in touch with us.  Use my contact details on this blog, or go direct to Mark Foden via the link.

Written by Mark Hainge

26 March 2014 at 8:47 pm

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Video Haiku

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Brevity is good. We should aim to get our message across in the least number of words we can. Sometimes, though, mere words are not enough. Let me explain…

It’s often said that a picture paints a thousand words. Graphical explanations can sometimes work wonders in conveying ideas, achieving in one image what it might have taken many words to do. The more innovative and laterally-thinking of those who work in the digital world have realized this, and they combine words and pictures in an extremely effective way. For an example of how it can work, look at this YouTube video, which explains how new technology will change the mechanics of government services. It was made by an old mate of mine, in between bouts of ‘man vs liquidiser’ (see my earlier post, ‘It’s Very Nice But What’s It For?”) and it puts across some complicated stuff in an engaging and easy to understand way .

This form of communication is growing in popularity and the internet is full of home-produced videos that cover a wealth of topics in only sixty seconds. It’s an art form and the best ones are almost video haikus. I feel inspired to have a go at it myself. Stand by…

Written by Mark Hainge

16 January 2014 at 12:23 pm

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Where Are We Now?

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…as David Bowie memorably asked earlier in 2013. Well, speaking for this particular site, my rather meagre output of 22 posts over as many months has been viewed in a total of 43 countries (although one of them, bizarrely, is the Isle of Man) and has generated three leads for either potential or actual work. And writing the posts has kept me out of trouble for a few hours too. Not a bad result. Happy New Year.

Written by Mark Hainge

31 December 2013 at 4:59 pm

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Cooking With Pliers

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This short entry returns to the theme of cooking – an area in which I claim no expertise but a limited amount of experience.

This morning I found a thought provoking recipe for making plum jam that I really liked. It wasn’t overly prescriptive and let you find your own way to do things. For instance, it said, “Crack open half of the plum stones and get the kernels out.” Great! Plain writing that made sense.

Better still, it let me find my own way of doing things. The end effect was quite clear – I was to get the kernels out of the plum stones – and the method to be used was up to me. So I used a pair of fairly heavy duty pliers (the sort with a wire-cutting bit included in the jaws) and in very little time I had a fine heap of kernels and a mass of cracked plum stones for the compost heap.

And here’s the thing. People enjoy being given the freedom to find their own ways of doing things. Tell them what you want and let them get on with it – and the more clearly you can tell them, the less chance they have of getting it wrong. The jam turned out fine, too.

Written by Mark Hainge

6 December 2013 at 9:58 am

Posted in Content, General

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Caring Language

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At the risk of implying that I have nothing to do all day but surf the internet, I want to point you to another perceptive and helpful article about the importance of language.  This one is written by the Chief Exec of Certitude, a group of personal support and social care providers, Aisling Duffy.

Rather than summarize her excellent words I’ll leave you to read it for yourself.  Here’s the link.  It’s good to find like-minded people; all that remains is to work out whether it’s a case of great minds thinking alike, or fools seldom differing.  Over to you on that one…

Written by Mark Hainge

15 July 2013 at 1:06 pm

Posted in General, Language

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