Dialects are a hugely important part of British culture. They do make you sound a bit thick, though

September 26, 2021 at 12:18 pm | Posted in humour, language, rage | 1 Comment
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By Hugh Rathergood

[Satire. Because I read this, and I wished I hadn’t.]

Everyone loves English dialects. They conjure up images of rolling hills, idyllic weekend breaks, country pubs, and vets with their arms halfway up cows. Dialects give normal people, like me, wonderful insights into cultures vastly removed from ours.

An interesting paper came out this week, saying it’s hard for children to learn Standard English. It’s a completely new topic; no-one’s done any research on this before. I don’t need to read any linguistics books to know all about language, because I was brought up speaking properly.

Sometimes, normal people like me think, ‘Gosh! That person doesn’t know that ‘I were sat next to her’ is incorrect! They can’t have gone to the right school. I wonder how that will affect their prospects of getting that job I’m interviewing for next week?’

Accents are sort of like dialects, but a bit different. Accents involve removing things like ‘h’s and ‘t’s from proper English, or saying ‘z’ when you mean ‘s’. This is lovely, as it reminds us of our holidays. Unless you’re from an inner city, in which case it makes you sound lazy and aggressive.

You can’t get a proper job with an accent, unless the BBC say it’s not that strong and you can have a job in local news. Your best bet is to stay where you were born and run something touristy for us normal people to enjoy on our weekend breaks.

A marvellous place to enjoy English accents

There *are* clever people who don’t speak RP, which is the linguistic term for speaking properly. But they all move to the South, because there are no good universities or jobs anywhere else. They lose their beautiful, historic local accents, and sell out their roots. But they are also living proof that it’s possible to change how you speak, pretend convincingly to be a normal person, like me, and succeed in life.

Accents are just a bit annoying, but grammar is critical. If grammar isn’t completely correct all the time, communication instantly fails. Grammar is difficult, and everyone should be taught it, apart from people like me who are born speaking properly. I’m going to list a few grammar terms just so you know I’m serious about this. I know what they all mean, don’t worry. No child should mix up their qualifiers and their determinants, because this would just prove how poorly educated they are. We can’t be blamed for not giving them a job, now can we?

Doctor Who’s a woman! Or is she?

November 23, 2018 at 7:44 pm | Posted in tv & film | Leave a comment

I’m SO excited about the new Doctor Who. She’s great, isn’t she? Real, believable, relatable, funny, brilliant, alien-yet-so-human. You can see the links back through previous generations; the wit, the sagacity, the heaviness of a heart that knows so much, the relentless, unstoppable hope of someone who’ll outlive anyone else in the galaxy.

And I utterly love that she’s a woman. Not just because it sticks two fingers up at the old guard, but because this representation is so important, and so overdue. I think about all the girls, watching her and thinking, ‘I’m going to be a Time Lord when I grow up.’ I think about all the budding scientists and historians and psychologists and sociologists and anthropologists and naturalists, with one more role model saying to them, ‘Women do this stuff too, and we’re brilliant at it.’

I loved that conversation in the first episode, where she asks the police officer why she’s calling her ‘madam,’ and the officer says, ‘Because you’re a woman,’ and the Doctor says, ‘Am I?!’ And then she gets on with the job anyway. I love that she strides around like she owns the place, never questions her right to be somewhere, never thinks twice before taking control of a situation and telling everyone what to do. I love that she’s the Doctor before she’s anything else. She’s a person, a character, a brilliant mind, a skilled and talented individual, not in any way defined by her physical form. Because this is how it feels in my head. This is what women are, whatever claptrap society wants us to believe; we are our minds, our skills, our talents, our histories, our hopes, our fears. It can be a bit of a shock remembering that you’ve got a body, and that people respond to you in a particular way because of it.

And this is the one problem with it all. The new, marvellous, brilliant Doctor reminds me of lots of terrific women I know: forthright, uncompromising, funny, clever, taking no crap from anyone. But her world is different from theirs. The Doctor’s world is perfectly aligned with her reality. She stomps into tense situations and demands attention, and gets it. She’s listened to, respected for her knowledge and her expertise. She moves through the world without hesitation, unquestioning and fearless, and the world budges up to let her pass. In short, it treats her like a man.


Doctor Who: not taking any crap from anybody since 1963

I wonder what’s in store for her. Will the scripts carry on reflecting this utopia, this brilliant possible future where nobody cares what you look like, what body you’re in, as long as you can do the job? Or will she start to bump up against the realities of being a woman? I’m kind of hoping for the latter, however much I’d like those impressionable girl fans to believe in that incredible future for themselves. I’m waiting for the episode where the tiny evil mouse-like things ignore her and talk to Graham, assuming he’s in charge. Or the one where the horrible shapeshifting slime keeps interrupting her, like she’s not actually talking. Or the one where she has a brilliant idea at the very last minute, and Ryan gets the credit for it. I’m waiting for the one where she’s got such excruciating period pain, she needs to land the Tardis in Meadowhall and send Yaz out for cocodamol and gin, then carries on and saves three planets anyway. I’m waiting for the one where passing cyborgs leer at her and yell, ‘Smile, darlin’, it might never ‘appen!’, or the one where the glacial hypermonarch mocks her for insisting on being called ‘Doctor’: ‘You insecure, or something?’ I’m waiting for the one where the genocidal mastermind gets right up in her face and puts his hand on her arse and makes it clear that if she wants his cooperation, she’ll have to sleep with him.

That’ll do for starters. When we’ve seen how she deals with all that, we can consider getting her pregnant.


Q: When is a chip like a bicycle?

February 6, 2018 at 5:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

You read the thing about Doritos, right? Lady chips?! Eeeesh! Soooooo insulting! Like, is this the 1950s?! I’m a woman, and I like crunchy crisps! What’s so weird about that? And remember that Pinarello e-bike ad? Slow ladies keeping up with their menfolk?! Eeeesh! Soooooo insulting! Like, is this the 1950s?! I’m a woman, and I ride bikes fast! What’s so weird about that?

Are you seeing some kind of pattern, here? Right this minute, all over the place, people are having this meeting:

Sales dude: Damn, we need to shift more chips/ pens/ bicycles!

Design dude: Shall we make the product better? I have some ideas…

Finance dude [cutting him off]: No way, mate. That stuff costs money.

Marketing dude: I know! Let’s do something really obviously offensive, so we get in all the papers! Then when everyone’s talking about how awful we are, we can issue one of those apolothingies, you know, where we say it’s…

Finance dude: …the work of an intern which does not align with our company values?

Marketing dude: Yes! Genius.

Sales dude: And then everyone’s suddenly, like, “oh! So weird, but I really feel like some chips/ pens/ bicycles!”

Marketing dude: I LOVE MY JOB.

I know there’s that stuff about all publicity is good publicity, and the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, and advertising’s really just being about grabbing every opportunity to go DORITOS! DORITOS! DORITOS! DORITOS! at everyone until we all crack and buy some. But it would be nice if, oh, I dunno, we could do that without the casual, idiotic sexism, without the feeling that we’re being prodded into outraged retaliation while a bunch of bros sit about going, ‘See? I TOLD YOU THAT WOULD HAPPEN! Women, huh!’ and high-fiving each other. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got better things to waste my time on.


Where to put your turbo trainer

November 25, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment

Winter. That time of year when you throw open the curtains, look upon the cold, wet, windy, sleety, snowy, slushy, icy mess the world has suddenly become, and think, “It’s 2017. Surely there’s a nice, sheltered, climate-controlled exercise option?”

Yes, it’s turbo trainer time. I’ve written before on how to enjoy  get the best out of  salvage some miserable grain of positivity from your turbo sessions, but one aspect I neglected is the important choice of where to set up the trainer. I’ll run through your options while you get your shorts on.

  1. Kitchen.
    • Pros: Practical floor covering for wiping up sweat puddles after you’ve finished that round of MonstahEpicBashRite™ intervals. Close to sources of water and snacks. Great view out of the window on to the snow-covered hills, where your rivals will be training. Ha! More fool them! You’re inside! Nice and warm! Working hard! Really hard! Are they working harder, though? I mean, it’s great training, riding against the wind. And all that ice and slush is perfect for improving your ‘cross skills. What if they’re just, you know, a bit stronger than you?


      Winter hills. Absolutely nobody is out there being epic. Don’t worry

  2. Living room.
    • Pros: Nice big TV for watching MonstahEpicBashRite™ videos and pretending you’re Lars Van Der Haar. Absorbent floor covering for soaking up sweat puddles. Convenient sofa for resting between intervals.
    • Cons: No net curtains, so passing strangers can look in and see you going nowhere fast. They’re all kitted out in their hiking boots and breathable gaiters and ice spikes and ThermaResolve™ 4-season outerwear, and you know they’ve got bivvy bags and emergency flares and space food and a copy of Into Thin Air in their ergonomic backpacks. Are they laughing at you? They’re laughing, aren’t they.
  3. Bathroom.
    • Pros: Practical floor covering, etc. etc.. Towel rail for putting your sweat towel on. Close to loo, because you’re going to work so hard on your MonstahEpicBashRite™ intervals, you might actually throw up, like Laura Kenny. You really might. You won’t feel bad when you don’t, though, will you? It doesn’t mean anything.
  4. Garage.
    • Pros: Nice and cool. Lots of heavy-duty garden equipment around to remind you that you are a DOER who gets things DONE with your MUSCLES. No need to even worry about the sweat puddles; that’s what happens when you get things DONE with your MUSCLES. Your neighbour sees you in your bike kit and says, with a hint of admiration, “Going out for a ride? In this?! Wow. Proper hardcore.” You go back into the house and hide until she’s gone.
  5. Bedroom.
    • Pros: Upstairs, so no-one can see in. Comforting, familiar environment. Lots of soft furnishings to muffle sounds of existential-angst screaming.
  6. Cupboard under stairs.
    • Pros: Turbo trainer can go back in here, folded up nicely, when you admit defeat and go out for a ride.

Autumn. It’s not all that.

November 4, 2016 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Reasons you don’t need to worry about British Cycling

April 29, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Posted in cycling | 4 Comments
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Worried about what’s happening at British Cycling? Concerned that recent revelations indicate it’s a fundamentally sick institution rife with sexism, racism and ableism? Relax! I’m here to explain why you can carry on cheering and waving flags and just generally LOVING how totally brilliant we are at everything.



1. Nobody ever complained about anything at BC before now, so everything must have been fine.
2. Well, apart from that review in 2012.
3. Nobody changed anything after the 2012 report, though, so it can’t have found out anything that important.
4. Oh, yeah, there was that book in 2012, too. But, well, she was never a team player. You know.
5. All the people who’ve complained about their treatment have chips on their shoulders because they didn’t get picked for stuff.
6. Well, okay, some of them got picked for stuff. But all the other people who’ve complained are well-known for crying a lot.
7. Well, all the women are well-known for crying a lot.
8. Top-level sportswomen cry at, like, EVERYTHING. They’re just bags of nerves. Honestly.
9. Okay, only some of the women are well-known for crying a lot. Maybe only one. Whatever. You get my drift.
10. Women have REALLY good imaginations. They’re always imagining stuff like sexism, when all anyone was doing was commenting on their arse in a totally supportive way and calling them ‘man one’ because, well, what, hang on, you mean there’s a WOMEN’S team sprint? Gosh.
11. No men have reported sexist comments being made about them, so there can’t have been any.
12. Lots of able-bodied athletes have said nobody ever called them ‘wobblies’ or ‘gimps’, so the others are obviously imagining it.
13. Lots of high-profile men have said everyone was always totally lovely to them, and they’re the REALLY successful athletes – you know, the PROPER ones that get lots of funding and everything – so we should listen to them.
14.None of the men said anyone told them they should go and have a baby. If anyone said it to a woman, he was probably just concerned about her making the right choices. Women always appreciate help with that.
15. No white athletes have ever been called ‘dirty terrorists’, so that must have been just banter. Where would we be without banter? What do you mean, in a more equitable and tolerant society?
16. Everyone at BC is always nice to their old mum.
17. Anyway that bloke’s resigned now, hasn’t he, so it’s all fine. Phew. Carry on!

Bike maintenance for LADIES

April 20, 2016 at 9:12 am | Posted in advice, cycling | 1 Comment
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girl bike tyreGood morning, and welcome to Bike Maintenance For Ladies, episode 37 in an occasional series. Observe the picture above*. There’s a lot we can learn from this neat demonstration of how to change a bicycle puncture.

First, note that the bicycle has been removed from the road, away from passing traffic, and leant gently up against a rock or tree stump. Do not lie your bicycle on its side, especially with the chainset downwards; you risk scratching the paintwork and damaging your derailleur. NEVER balance your bicycle upside down to effect repairs, as this will scuff the saddle and ruin your handlebar tape.

Protective sheeting has been put down to protect the floor from dirt and debris – although if you keep your bicycle scrupulously clean, as in the picture, you’ll find less maintenance is required overall.

Always carry spares and tools. If, like this rider, you prefer to ride without mudguards, you may feel a seatpack detracts from the clean lines of your machine. Simply use your spare inner tube as a hair scrunchie until required.

The rider has removed the front wheel carefully and propped it against her knee, saving the spindle from potential damage caused by contact with the tarmac. Observe how she lines up the valve on the replacement tube with the hole in the rim. Tyre levers are not always necessary: a good strong set of gel fingernails makes a perfectly acceptable substitute.

There are, however, some points for improvement in this demonstration. Firstly, the rider does not appear to be wearing socks. This is unhygienic, allowing the bacteria naturally present in sweat to propagate unfettered in your trainers. Secondly, road riders should always wear a helmet.


* Thanks to @JEmptyloo on twitter for sharing the picture.


April 19, 2016 at 11:53 am | Posted in barbershop, barbershop, music | Leave a comment
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Harmony College weekend started with a bang – literally – when I walked into a doorstop in the Premier Inn bathroom on the Saturday morning and broke a toe.

Liz [with a grin]: It’s been sent to take your mind off how nervous you are. It’s a GIFT.

It was true I’d spent the previous week trying not to be sick. LABBS Harmony College is a weekend of learning about barbershop, and listening to it and singing it and talking about it and thinking about it. A whole weekend. Sounds blissful, right? But a class called A Cappella Show & Tell was looming large in my nightmares. It was JUST what I needed to move me on with my arranging, except I’d only ever shown my work to people I could trust not to say, ‘Blimey! Well… it’s… um… interesting.’ As the weekend drew closer, I printed out seventy-three different arrangements and decided none of them were actually any good at all.


The boiz realised I was nervous and gave me this to wear

Liz went off to be awesome on the Directors’ Stream and I was on my own. Luckily, Heather Lane couldn’t have been more supportive and friendly. I was cheered to realise that not every arranger has fourteen music degrees and wanders around murmuring to herself about subdominant progressions using the tonic seventh. (Only some of them.) In fact, arrangers seem to fall into two groups: those who think in terms of the notes on the page, and those who rely on their ears. Each types values (and slightly envies) the skills of the other, and I realised arranging didn’t have to be me on my own with my computer; it could be a collaborative enterprise.

Once this was over, I relaxed and I learnt BAGS of stuff including FINALLY understanding the circle of fifths*, primary harmony** and musical themes*** (all of which you need in order to arrange a song Properly Barbershoppily). We had excellent fun pretending to be Music Category judges, watching DVDs with proper LABBS score sheets in front of us and trying to agree on whether performances were 59s or 61s. I imagined my mouth as a nave, or maybe a piping bag, in the Understanding Resonance class with Alison Thompson, and tried to judge videoed quartets on their singing. We wrote a tag collaboratively under Delyth Knight’s tutelage, with me going ‘Dah dah dah dah’ (singing the chord I wanted) and the rest of the class going ‘C E G Bb’ (#earsversusnotes).

the mix quartet HC 2016

The Mix, giving it the beans

Liz and I ran into utterly fabulous The Mix quartet, and sweet-talked them into letting us watch them warm up for their coaching session. (Sandra: You two are so funny. You’re sitting there, like [makes face of scarily unsmiling slightly stalkerish audience member]. Me: We’re CONCENTRATING.) The coaching-under-glass was fascinating – I was awed by their ability to take a piece of advice from Doug Harrington or Sandi Wright and immediately integrate it seamlessly into their performance.

We cheered the Quartet Stream participants, showing off what they’d learned over the weekend, and sang Bohemian Rhapsody en masse, and Doug taught the whole College a tag: ‘It would be great if we could keep it in D.’ Sandi inspired us to think differently about performance, and our beloved Sally McLean’s session on platforming brought everyone to raucous laughter and tears within about two minutes of each other.


Liz taking notes on how her part goes for the tag. This may be cheating #baritones

It was the first time I’d been away to a barbershop event without the White Rosettes massive, and it was weird without the formidable wave of #RosetteLove propelling me from one place to another. But it meant we talked to other people. We found out about barbershop dynasties, splits and shenanigans and other types of derring-do up and down the country. We caught up with the Barberettes who’d come to visit us in rehearsal a few weeks ago (‘I can’t believe how hard you guys WORK!’). We drank wine and formed a bass-heavy quartet. (We don’t need you, tenors. No sirree.) We sang with Norwich Harmony and Cheshire Chord Company in the bar, and a friendly bass warbled in my ear so I could try and sing along. Barbershoppers really are a lovely lot.

I came away feeling inspired, and that I had the tools to have a go at stuff. Liz and I drove back up the motorway listening to the Jackson Five and James Brown, playing Spot The Theme***** and working out the chords: ‘One. Five. One. Four. Five. One.’ I’m currently barbershopping The Pink Panther at the rate of about one bar an hour, and working on resonance in my upper range and providing good support for my singing (principally by trying to remember not to bop around with excitement while quartetting). Huge thanks to LABBS and to the Voices in Harmony Foundation, who awarded me a grant to attend Harmony College; you can read my slightly-more-sensible writeup in the upcoming edition of Voicebox magazine.


Tools of the trade… Everything I need to know is in this book****** [clears diary] [cracks knuckles]


* I strapped it up and channelled the legendary Jane Ford, who broke her wrist and was back on stage with the Rosettes a couple of days later sporting a black silk sling.

** It’s all about the sevenths. Why does nobody mention the sevenths?

*** Delyth Knight described primary harmony as ‘the points where a rubbish guitarist accompanying herself would be FORCED to strum a different chord.’

**** The theme is the point of the song: lyrical (the focus of the song is the lyrics), rhythmic, harmonic or melodic.

***** Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine is a song about how they are going to sing the song, and therefore in its own theme category. This is possibly why it’s not a popular choice for quartets

****** Many thanks to Helen Ring and Alys Galloway for the delivery of this awesome tome.



March 22, 2016 at 11:13 am | Posted in barbershop, barbershop, music | 3 Comments
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In March, forty-six* of the marvellous fabulous White Rosettes took to the SKIES to perform at BinG!, the German barbershop convention. It’s a bit like LABBS Convention, which you might remember from last year, if you can imagine it re-set in the Barbican with a televised livestream and Tom Service presenting. Yup, Germans take their barbershop VERY seriously.picture by Hannah and the Hurricanes

We were there as special guests (did I mention we’re the national champions and current European champions?), so there was no pressure. Well, not the competing-at-Convention type of pressure. Just the-judges-are-going-to-give-us-marks-for-mike-warming-to-get-their-hand-in type of pressure. And the singing-in-the-German-Barbican-on-TV-on-the-same-bill-as-American-barbershop-royalty-with-the-German-Tom-Service-presenting type of pressure. We White Rosettes are FINE with this kind of stuff. TOTALLY fine.

We flew out on the Friday and were back on the Sunday, and it was a bit of a whirlwind and I’m no longer entirely sure what happened when, so I’ve organised my observations under headings instead.

  1. GERMANY. Yes, we were actually ABROAD. You wouldn’t really know it, as our impression of Munich was mostly based on the fifty metre stretch of pavement between the hotel and the concert hall. Clues that we were not in Basingstoke included the availability of at least 173 different types of Ritter Sport in the supermarket and the fact that we couldn’t work out which train tickets we needed, even with the help of a supposedly fluent German speaker (me) [cough].
  2. WEATHER. Munich in March was balmy and bright. Not so Manchester, where snow and ice necessitated the wheeling-out of the Big Machine to spray hot water and alcohol on to the plane’s wings, and further heavenly dumps prevented the flight behind us (containing several front-row Rosettes) from taking off at all.


    The Big Machine. Where are our small children when we need them?

  3. SLEEP. There wasn’t a lot of this. Late to bed, early to rise, Rosettes run mainly on chocolate and adrenaline. Kip opportunities were snatched where possible. After one refreshing nap, Liz and I woke to find we had twenty minutes to pack our stage outfits, get our stage makeup on including false eyelashes, biggify our hair and run over to the concert hall. We made it. (She even forgave me for setting my alarm wrong.)


    Having lunch inconspicuously in full chorus makeup

  4. SINGING. Of course, this is the point of it all. As well as mike-warming for the chorus competition, we took part in two terrific evening shows alongside barbershop royalty – Ambassadors of Harmony, Crossroads quartet and GQ (Girls Quartet) had all made the trip from the States. The Philharmonie am Gasteig was a marvellous hall to sing in, and we rose to its challenge; we got a standing ovation on the Saturday night. And, of course, we sang wherever else we could manage. Christina taught us a round over lunch; we sang in quartet in a glorious ringing atrium halfway up the stairs in the middle of the afternoon, when nobody was about; the afterglow saw us charging through half the chorus repertoire, learning tags from friendly Ambassadors of Harmony (Them: Do you know Prairie? Us: No. Them: No problem. We’ve got the sheet music on our phones) and singing with anyone who would stand still long enough. It was UTTER bliss.
  5. FANGIRLING. Did I mention the barbershop royalty? We gushed at Tim Waurick, tenor extraordinaire and teach track impresario (Me: We love TimTracks! Liz: Is it true you don’t use autotune? Tim: No, I don’t. Well, yes, a bit. But no.) I cornered David Wright and asked him for arranging advice. (He told me ALL his tricks and swore me to secrecy.) We introduced ourselves to GQ as representatives of their British fan club. (Us: WE WERE SO EXCITED THAT YOU SANG HOT KNIFE. Ali: Ah, we were supposed to be singing this ballad and right before we went on I said, you guys, I want to sing Hot Knife instead!) I rugby-tackled the lead from Vocal Spectrum and asked them to sing my favourite. We burbled at Dr Jim Henry, who gamely pretended he remembered us. Rasmus from the Ringmasters sat next to us at breakfast. Crikey.


    Barbershop Royalty (Crossroads) singing at the afterglow

Coming back down to earth after all that was a bit of a trial. I’m not sure why the world doesn’t yet revolve around barbershop; why we don’t switch on the telly and see Suzy Klein introducing the Barbershop Prom, why the Rosettes aren’t packing out the Royal Festival Hall, why people don’t ditch the karaoke machines and sing tags in the pub. If BinG! is anything to go by, it can only be a matter of time.

White Rosettes at BinG! 2016

Click to watch our Saturday night set

* Actually, forty-five took to the skies, and Isabel went in the car with our banners, canes and CDs. Dedication.

What barbershop chorus members are really thinking

March 19, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Posted in barbershop, barbershop, music, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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* * Based shamelessly on this post from Classic FM. * *

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* * Based shamelessly on this post from Classic FM. * *

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