We have just returned from a wonderfully relaxing holiday in a gîte near Vire in Calvados, Normandy with my parents. I have spoken French every day and we have laughed so much. Going on a French bank holiday weekend is not a great idea as there were lots of traffic jams or “confiture de voitures” as some bright spark translated the term! We chose the bank holiday itself to go to Mont St Michel which was like being on a conveyor belt. We also went to see the Bayeux tapestry which was on my list of things to do during my lifetime. I swam in the cold Channel seawater for the first time since I was a child. And we saw cows being milked and lots of birds of prey, one in particular which was out hunting every evening when we returned.

France is a lot more expensive than it used to be; we really noticed it in the supermarket. But some things were free, which was refreshingly unlike rip-off Britain: children under 10 went in to see the Bayeux tapestry for free, a lot of car parks were free and we only paid for parking, not entrance fees, at Mont St Michel.

We had some linguistic treats too. We were invited for an apéritif of Calvados by our landlord who showed us his amazing collection of antiques. The children were very well behaved and had a go at speaking French. Monster had us in stitches as his pronunciation of pain au chocolat came out as pain au choco-ah and morphed into pain au choco-oo-ah!

It was a good job we didn't see similar signs...

But the pièce de résistance has to be that on the penultimate evening, my daughter made friends with a French eight-year-old who was holidaying in the gîte next door (we didn’t even know there was anyone living there!) They were able to communicate despite neither knowing any of the other’s language thanks to the joys of childhood. Madam somehow managed to explain to her new friend how to play a Nintendo DS game which was in English (amazing as she doesn’t have a console herself). I have tried many times to teach her French but she has a burst of short-lived energy and loses interest, despite having a fantastic accent. When she was small she used to shake her head if I spoke to her in French but when we stayed with a French friend, her toddler-speak turned from “la la la” to a French-style guttural rrr!

Maybe, now that she has exchanged email addresses with someone of her own age, this might change. Watch this space…

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Half a decade

Well, this month has brought another few landmarks in our household. At the beginning of July, my son turned five. He was convinced he was going to grow overnight and be taller when he woke up on his birthday, but unsurprisingly, it was not to be. We had a ‘pirates and princesses’ party with all his friends which involved my children and my husband walking down the street in full pirate regalia and getting some very strange looks. It also gave birth to a few pirate jokes, e.g. what does a pirate have up his sleeves? Altogether now: his arrrms!

Five seems very important: it is after all, half a decade and a real unit of measurement as lots of things come in fives, such as toes, the Famous Five (my favourite books from childhood), five Olympic rings etc. We even have a terrestrial TV Channel 5, not to be confused with Chanel No. 5. And of course, I’ve found a couple of bloopers (which seem appropriate as we’ve had toys similar to this) on

And then came the end of the school year. My son has come on in leaps and bounds in reception. He was late to start talking, preferring to sign, and had speech therapy which has most definitely paid off. (Where’s the off switch?) We thought we had bypassed nursery rhymes (the week after the speech therapist saw him for his penultimate appointment when she asked if he was singing nursery rhymes, he came out with Queen’s We Will Rock You). His wonderful teachers have helped to extend this development and we even had “Rain in a Manger at Christmas. He struggles with words like competition and says “comtepition” but comes out with “interactive whiteboard” and “independent learners”. I was so surprised to hear the latter that I thought he’d said “in the pink pyjamas”! What a difference a year makes and in a few short weeks he will progress to year 1 and his sister to year 4.

Oh my goodness, where has the time gone?

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Pulped Fiction

According to the 2003 Literary Pocket Companion, books can have alternative uses. The following is an extract:

When engineers started searching for a suitably absorbent pulp to lay on the M6 toll motorway in 2003, they found it at an unexpectedly slushy publishing company. The pulp was needed to strengthen the tarmac and create a long-lasting soundproof layer, and the books they found most suitable were Mills and Boon romantic novels.

About 2,500,000 old copies were pulped and mixed into the road’s top layer – that’s about 45,000 books for every mile of Britain’s first pay-as-you-go motorway. Mills and Boon were chosen because of the books’ super-absorbent qualities. “They may be slushy to many people, but it’s their ‘no-slushiness’ that is their attraction as far as we are concerned,” Brian Kent from Tarmac told the BBC.

The BBC account is told here: It points out that books used are usually end of line or damaged novels. I’m all for recycling, but I do feel sad at the prospect of only having electronic books in the future. There’s something nice about curling up in bed with a good paperback (thank you for the great idea, Penguin books!) and the feeling of luxury if the book is hardback or a notebook is leatherbound.

According to, the Department of Transport used to issue booklets to mark the opening ceremonies of new roads.

And here’s a classic from English Fail

American democrcy

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Some of the things that proofreaders check for are: 

  • Spelling

 Doesn’t a big company such as Victoria’s Secret use proofreaders? From Red Pen, Inc.

  • Grammar
  •  Punctuation
Obviously for only one girl… From Apostrophe Abuse
  • Sense

From Failblog

  • Consistency
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Red, white and blue

Just in case anyone has been living in a cave recently, we’ve had a royal wedding.

My children and I watched it and my daughter and I celebrated by painting our toenails red, white and blue with some friends, including an 8-year-old boy who when they were 3, wanted to marry my daughter and have 5 children (my daughter was totally in agreement with this). He had it all worked out: they were going to live near Legoland and he was going to go out to work so that she could stay at home and look after the children (until his mum pointed out that might not be what his wife wants out of life).

Patriotic toes

I was glad the children wanted to watch the ceremony as there was a royal wedding when I was just a little bit older than my daughter which we watched, followed by a street party, and my grandad collected all the newspapers and books — he was a staunch monarchist who stood up for the national anthem even when he was 80 and made us wait for Christmas presents until after the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day.

I loved all the pageantry, which is something we are very good at in Blighty and I was proud that my children had been learning the national anthem at school, even Monster. I loved seeing all those flags waving in London and the party atmosphere. I concur with the rest of the world in thinking that the dress was beautiful, most of the outfits were spectacular and some of the hats were a bit odd. I’m delighted that the rain held off (especially as we had a barbecue in the afternoon with all the participants of our sweepstake-style quiz about the morning’s events). The best bit for my children was the kiss (believe it or not) but there is a lot of talk around here at the moment that if you kiss someone on the lips, you have to marry them. Watch out, 8-year-old boy from paragraph 1!

I was also very proud that in my capacity of professional nitpicker, I didn’t see any grammatical howlers. The only mistake I have seen in the run-up to the wedding was this one on a commemorative mug:

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To all my friends who enjoy a tipple: according to Redhill and Reigate Life, Surrey County Council has issued a warning that fake bottles of Jacob’s Creek wine have been found on sale in the county. Apparently the bottles are easy to spot as they have spelling mistakes on the label. Twenty bottles have been found with labels on the back stating that the drink was a ‘Wine of Austrlia’ instead of Australia.

A Surrey County Council spokesman is quoted as saying, “The abysmal spelling gives new meaning to the phrase ‘thick as thieves’. Another sign that the cheap plonk is a smuggled counterfeit, thought to be from Asia, is that it tastes foul.” He also said, “What really staggers me is that they’ve got the winemaker’s signature perfect, but they couldn’t spell the word ‘Australia.’”

It seems that in this instance it isn’t much of a bargain to pay £2 instead of the usual £10ish.

But it did remind me of these two pictures from one of my favourite blogs, Failblog:

Maybe the German company should have found another name for English-speaking countries!

Maybe we need one of these…
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My daughter celebrated her 8th birthday on Friday. We had a weekend full of celebrations: the actual birthday, a pyjama party (no boys allowed!) on Saturday and a family party yesterday.

I always feel a bit nostalgic around my children’s birthdays about the anticipation of the birth and the elation of their safe arrivals and also about their achievements to date. My daughter was determined to stay up until the time of her birth (20:47) as her brother was born at 01.35 so has already aged by the time he wakes up on his birthday.

The pyjama party went very well with lots of girly activities such as dancing, painting our nails, colouring in door hangers, making our own pizzas and watching a DVD while eating popcorn. I was pleased that there was still a request for pass the parcel, musical bumps and pin the tail on the donkey though, proving that she isn’t too grown-up yet.

My daughter decorated her own birthday cake beautifully (and did another one the next day with her cousin). But what would I have done eight years ago if I had been presented with a cake like this? What a shame – all that hard work and no spellcheck facility!

From a fantastic blog:

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My trip to the supermarket with two children in tow was more stressful than usual this week, mainly as we decided to try using the handheld scanner for the first time as we walked around to try to save time. My daughter will be 8 next week and my son is 4½ and was not speaking much this time last year. He is catching up with his peers now very quickly, particularly thanks to speech therapy and starting school in September.

He has finally started singing nursery rhymes too, which we thought we had bypassed, so it’s wonderful that he is now doing it, and he’s quite tuneful. But on Monday, Monster had learnt a new song: the Alphabet Song which he sang continuously at top volume.

So when I spotted this the next day on Failblog, it seemed so appropriate.

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Cherry from South Oxon

I became a proofreader because I don’t like seeing mistakes in signs and other printed materials which people have paid good money for. I feel one doesn’t acquire a professional image of a company whose advert says Proofreader’s ‘R’ us.

I am all too aware that offering a proofreading service opens me up to criticism if I make typos in my emails and spent hours double-checking my website, only to be told by my friend that I had made an error or two. This is probably because I didn’t have much formal training in typing, growing up in that bygone era when offices had typing pools and secretaries just before computers took over the world. A common error in my own typing occurs when I have to type a double letter as I often pre-empt myself and type the letter before the double letter twice, e.g. prrofreader! Therefore I always read things through at least twice. This just goes to show that it is very difficult to proofread your own work.

I have been known to spot spelling errors in printed materials and then contact the writer to offer my services. That said, I would never look down on someone for making mistakes and would never correct a friend’s email unless specifically requested. And I wouldn’t write sarcastic comments either — I believe this has been given the term flaming.

I recently came across an article in the Daily Mail where the actress Emma Thompson criticised teenagers for using ‘teenspeak’. Readers leaving comments were condemned by a certain Cherry of South Oxon who took it upon herself to correct other people’s English from their comments. However she made herself look incredibly silly by wrongly insisting that the possessive of the plural word children is childrens’ and rudely put down anyone who tried to correct her. The argument rolled on and on for pages and became more and more amusing. It got to the point that I was desperate for Cherry to see she was wrong and own up to it. Someone tried to defend her by copying a quote from The Apostrophe Protection Society’s website but missed the point completely by not quoting a section about irregular plurals such as the word children! Cherry’s absolute classic comment was:

I speak as a grammarian of some forty years’ teaching experience. (Please note – the apostrophe comes after the ‘s’… because? Answerts on a postcard, please.)

Earlier in the comments, she had spelt the word grammarian with one ‘m’ and, as you’ve probably noticed, also spelt answers incorrectly.

The moral of the story: there is no need to be condescending to other people, which is why I like to see the lighter side of life.

Amongst other things, a spellchecker won’t pick up:

  • repetition of words in a sentence, e.g. the cat that that was sitting
  • correct spelling of a word when another should have been written, e.g. she was hiding form him in the garden
  • consistency in spelling a name, e.g. Mr Green was waiting. Mr Greene was getting bored
  • where hyphenation is required, e.g. build-up instead of build up or a little used car instead of a little-used car

If anyone finds any errors in my writing, please let me know!

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Hello world!

This is an exciting and scary moment for me as I have been threatening to write a blog for a while now and am nervous about finally getting round to clicking on the publish button. If anyone in cyberspace is reading this, please be patient with me as I suspect this will be a steep learning curve.

So, fingers crossed and here goes…

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