Category Archives: Odds & Ends

Mind those dangling participles

The Guardian style guide is a fascinating read which I could peruse all day. As well as basics like the difference between it’s and its, it contains such nuggets as the significance of Bin Laden’s birthplace, when to use Xmas instead of Christmas, and a snipe at a certain newspaper that can’t spell Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

Oh, and Happy New Year too. 🙂


I’ve found the cruciverbalist‘s dream website: OneLook. It indexes 982 online dictionaries, and can search them all by wildcard pattern (e.g. c?u?i?e?b?l?s?) or by definition (e.g. “crossword enthusiast“). You can also customise it to your heart’s content.

I just used it to get the last clue in the Christmas Radio Times prize crossword, which turned out to be a word I’d never heard of. Click here if you want to know what it was. 🙂

The tragic tale of Panda

When I was little, one of my favourite toys was Panda. Here’s Panda:


Panda now belongs to one of my daughters, Lauren. And Panda has a problem: Lauren insists he’s a girl.

Now obviously, you and I can see from the picture that Panda’s a boy, but Lauren won’t have it. Worse still, the power of suggestion is working strongly on Panda, who not only refuses to answer the question “Panda, are you a boy?” (he just stares straight ahead… it’s heartbreaking…) but has recently been seen wearing spangly hairbands on his ears.

If anyone out there has any suggestions of how to deal with a highly confused panda, please post a comment and make a difference. I’ll tell you one thing, though: it’s no wonder they can’t get the buggers to mate.

Is 19 a big number?

Today, on our way out in the car, and following some hushed discussions on the back seat, Hannah (one of our 4-year-old twins) suddenly asked, “Daddy! Is nineteen a big number?”

Well, how do you answer that? At that age I’d say it was pretty much right on the cusp between little and big, but without knowing the context (which, of course, they wouldn’t give me) it was about the toughest question I’ve faced to date as a father.

So, resourceful as ever, on our arrival back home I asked Google. Fat bloody use Google was. In my growing desperation, I turned to Jeeves but he was having none of it either.

Plan C is to refer the matter to the Guardian’s Notes And Queries column, but until such time as (a) it gets published, and (b) anyone answers (both slim prospects, I suspect), can anyone tell me: is 19 a big number? (And if so, how big?)

A quick little stick kid

I’m on a one-man mission to spread the word of a wonderful pair of children’s books: Stick Kid and The Big Blue Spot by Peter Holwitz. Peter’s one of that rare breed: a children illustrator who can also tell a great story. Both books have a brilliantly surreal edge to them, and are now favourites of the whole faimly (from 4 to 33). Stick Kid in particular will have a lump in your throat, I guarantee. Please try them out and ask me for a refund if you don’t love both of them.