When I drink a pint of booze I often think about the effort that went in to getting it into my hands and to my lips. Someone had to grow the ingredients, then harvest them. Somebody had to take the ingredients, combine them with other ingredients that they didn’t have to grow but still acquire, and using skill, technology, equipment and time produce a barrel of beer.

Somebody then had to warehouse the barrel, schedule it for delivery and get someone to distribute it to a licensed place that served booze. Finally, somebody to had to set up the barrel, connect it to some pipes, pour the product into a glass and serve it to me in their furnished, heated, cleaned building.

A pint is generally 20% either side of €4.50. It lasts about 10 to 30 minutes, depending both on its number in a sequence of beers and my mood.

Does that not strike you as being ludicrously good value? The effort that’s gone into producing the lovely, creamy work of art that should be in front of me right now, as I write this on a Friday evening.

Whenever I want to pay for something, anything, that’s relatively small, I use the pint benchmark:

Is this item expensive compared to a pint? Does it provide comparable value to me?

Then I act on my decision accordingly.

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Over the last 5 years or so, a simple ‘thank you’ – surely one of the most powerful phrases in the English language – hasn’t appeared to be enough. I’ve often felt that it depends on how much you mean it, how you execute the comment, but that a ‘thank you’ or ‘thanks’ should be all it takes to express your gratitude.

Instead, over the last half-decade the phrase ‘thanks so much’ has crept into the verbal repertoire of folks, especially the younger ones. Is it a US influence? I don’t know, could be.

I remember being taken out for dinner by my folks for my 18th birthday, half a world ago. After every piece of cutlery, crockery and course was delivered, after every clean-up, I said ‘thanks very much’, feeling that I had to dsiolay my extreme gratitude at being waited on. Half way through the evening my Mum leaned over and whispered, ‘it’s OK to just say thanks or thank you, not thanks very much every time. Maybe save that one for the very end.’ Which I did.

I often hear grateful kids say ‘thanks so much for my birthday present.’ You know they mean it, unless the delivery is laced with sarcasm.

It doesn’t feel natural to me, so I don’t use it. I find it hard to make it sound sincere. Instead I try to show my appreciation for the little things by saying thank you like I mean it, which I almost always do.

A spent a few enjoyable hours the other day in the company of the excellently apostrophised and excellent Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2018. This weighty tome’s reputation precedes it, as you probably know, and justifiably so. This was my first owned copy and it is indeed an invaluable resource.

It’s true what they say, and it’s repeatedly endorsed by all the published authors who contribute guest articles: everything you need to know about publishing and getting published is in this book.

One thing that struck me though was this: is the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for young people? You wouldn’t have thought so. In fact, the readership is probably on the older side. All those people who’ve promised themselves to be true to the notion that they’ve a novel in them, now with a little more time on their hands and a still-burning ambition.

My point is this: the book is over 800 pages long and packed with useful information. Packed being the operative word, since…

..the print is tiny, really hard to read, even with reading glasses on. It’s a book for young eyes. I know it’s not simply an option to raising the point size a couple of points and making the book 1,000 or 1,200 pages long, since that might price the book at the point where people are put off. It’s a good job, though, that the information is invaluable since the size of the type is a turn-off.

Also, I have a suggestion for improving this esteemed organ. Why not have a section listing the literary agents by genre? There is a section doing the same with publishers. It should be relatively easy to do, and stops the reader having to wade through every single agent blurb to get to the nub: do they specialise in my area? This might also stop the majority of agents from the lazy, don’t-want-to-miss-the-next-big-thing catch-all of listing that they cater to ‘all’ fiction and non-fiction genres, all of whom I ignored.

Did you know that Dublin has the only European capital city airport without a rail link? Well, apparently it is, and this presents problems for the traveller, as you might imagine.

When I’m flying back into Ireland, I have two choices to get home in the west of Ireland. Choice 1 is to take the coach from the airport to Galway in the west, and then make my way into the countryside. I can’t do this if the coach arrives at an unsociable hour; the inter-town services are done for the day, or should I say for the night.

Choice 2 is to take a bus, run by Dublin Bus, from the airport to the 2 main train termini, Connolly which services the north, and Heuston which serves the South, South West, West and North West.

On this occasion I had opted for the rickety 747 bus service in the form of choice 2. It was my first time taking this option, since I always preferred option 1, but the timings didn’t suit. ‘Besides,’ her Ladyship said, ‘it’s a good service.’ Very good then.

Imagine my good fortune, then, as I trotted out of Dublin airport to see a 747 waiting for me. 2 minutes later we were off. The route from the airport to the city centre is about 4 miles, and another 1 or 2 miles to the west of the city for Pearse Station. As I discovered, the route is pretty circuitous. Firstly it loops around the airport’s vast one-way system to pick up people from Terminal 2 before giving all Terminal 1 travellers a sense of deja vu as we take the same route out of the airport for the second time.

The service then takes a somewhat ’round the houses’ approach into Dublin, which, during the early evening rush hour took 45 minutes. We stopped on the mighty O’Connell Street and some people got off, along with, rather controversially, the driver, who announced that this stop was a driver shift change and the next driver would be along in 2 minutes.

20 minutes later, which is a lengthy 2 minutes even by Irish standards, we were still waiting. What made this rather illuminating was that the departing driver couldn’t leave his shift until the relieving driver turned up and the remaining travellers on the bus could hear the two-way ‘walktie talkie’ conversations between the driver and the dispatcher. The new driver was somewhere near, but not answering the phone, by all accounts. Moments later the relief driver turned up, having been waiting at the wrong stop on the street…

Somewhat wisely and ultra-conservatively I had allowed 120 minutes for us to travel the 6 miles between the airport and train station for the last train west of the day. The 6-mile journey took 85 minutes. It then took me 120 more minutes to go 120 miles to my home town.

And we wonder why public transport is always both broke and broken.

I wrote recently about how many of us are in front of a device keyboard all day and manage to get by with 2 or 4-finger typing, rather than potentially the 10 digits at our disposal. When was the last time you saw a job ad for an predominantly office-based role that wasn’t for a PA or secretary that said ‘since the majority of your time is desk-bound, you must be able to type 50 words a minute or more to apply’?

When I had a few months off between jobs about 15 years ago, I went to a typing course. I didn’t last more than a couple of weeks. Even though I wasn’t working, I couldn’t spare the lost productivity while my typing speed was cut into a quarter of ‘slow’. I didn’t have the time to engrain the behaviours to see the long term benefit.

Because I’ve probably typed a million words since then, I’ve improved my typing ‘organically’. I’ve made it up as I go along. My organic typing is now a flurry of activity as hands cross over each other and fingers overlap. I look like a piano player when I type, and it’s hardly a virtuoso performance.

Interestingly, one of my brothers can type properly, and he’s had some issues with RSI – repetitive strain injury. I wonder if the act of anchoring your wrists down more and being more regimented with the spaces your fingers occupy makes you more prone to these injuries of ‘isolation’ compared to the organic way of letting the fingers go where they want to and damn the downturn in efficiency.

How many of us spend large amounts of time at a computer, device, smartphone or other digital device? What do we do on them? Well, principally we’re typing our part of some dialogue.

Isn’t it amazing that computers have formed the central role in our working and playing lives yet so few of us can type properly? What a bonus it would be to type as fast as we can talk, as fast as we can think even. How much more productive could we be?

Many of us continue to get by on 2-finger typing. I’ve graduated to 4-finger typing, with the occasional thumb for the space bar and the pinkie for the return key, when I don’t use the dictate function on my mac. It’s still painfully slow, but it’s progress of a kind I suppose.

I find it flabbergasting that the primary and secondary schools my kids go to don’t get typing and keyboarding lessons. Boys and girls both need it; it’s an essential skill for the modern world, even if we never type anything during our working day.

We’re all looking at the keyboard, when we should be looking at the screen. There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

“That was easy. Like taking candy from a baby.”

It’s an interesting simile, obviously originating in the US, since in European English we would say ‘sweets’.

It’s interesting when you think about how it originated. ‘Like stealing or taking candy from a baby’. A really easy thing to do for sure, but who would do that? Who is so weak that they feel they can take something from someone over whom they have such an overpowering advantage? And why take what is not rightfully ours?

We need a new simile to describe something really easy, something that requires the minimum of effort. How about:

  • Getting burnt in the sun
  • Opening a letter
  • Smiling
  • Paying someone a compliment
  • Scoring in an open goal from a metre out

OK, so they’re not world-class, but they all convey the positive, rather than the negative.

‘Congrats on your work anniversary!’ I got a couple of these from contacts of mine via the LinkedIn network last week. I get them occasionally and I’m always a bit bemused by them.

That’s because I have one of those portfolio careers, so I have a small basket of ‘jobs’ on my profile. When someone sends me a congrats note, therefore, I’m not sure which anniversary they’re congratulating me on.

If we have one job, chances are we know when we started it, and maybe we also use the anniversary of our tenure there to take stock, reflect on where we’re at and decide if we’re happy to stay or think about a move.

When you have three or four of them, the chances are you don’t remember when you started each of them, hence the confusion.

Don’t get me wrong: I like that someone has taken the trouble to congratulate me, and I appreciate the gesture. It usually precipitates a couple of questions in my head, however. Anniversary where? Which anniversary, how many years? How many occupations do I list on LinkedIn these days?

Perhaps LinkedIn is better suited to one-track careerists than their portfolio counterparts.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, or so the saying goes. There’s always some implied barter or quid pro quo implicit in the donation of a free lunch. The donor is expecting something in return – usually.

I was on Liverpool Street in London the other day. There’s usually a homeless man selling the Big Issue near the pedestrian crossing across from one of the station’s exits. He’s not a British national, as you can hear from his extremely chirpy ‘Good morning, ‘ave a good day’, accompanied by a thumbs up, to hundreds upon hundreds of passers-by during the 2 rush hours.

I was feeling particularly virtuous, or so I thought and I went up to buy a copy of the Big Issue from him. Sometimes I will give the Big Issue vendors a quid or two and not take the magazine, but on this occasion I fancied a read. I hadn’t read it for a long time.

A young chap, late 20s I would say, got there first, so I waited behind him. Except that the young chap didn’t buy a Big Issue, or slip him a quid or two. He gave him a lunch, a lunch in a paper carrier bag that he had just bought, and walked off.

What a lovely gesture it was. Thoughtful, easy to do, and for a few quid he’s made the man’s day. I’m slightly welling up as I recount the story. I felt that my own magnanimity has been seriously compromised as I profferred my cash for the magazine, and rightly so.

If we all made the young man’s gesture once every month or two, what a difference that would make.

The lunch donor didn’t look for anything in return, except perhaps his own reflected feel good factor. Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch after all.

One of the quainter English phrases is to ‘to and fro’, where fro is an old contraction of from. You can use the term ‘physically’, as in to go to and fro London, although I admit there’s the insertion of the verb ‘to go’ there. You can also use it figuratively, as in ‘I need to to and fro on this subject before I can make a decision I’m happy with’.

That’s fine, but how do you use the term in the past tense? Imperfect tense is OK – as in I was to-ing and fro-ing – although to hyphenate or not is slightly problematic. But what about the simple past tense, as in I did something? Here are some options, to my mind:

  • I to-ed and fro-ed
  • I to’d and fro’d
  • I went to and fro
  • I to and fro-ed

I’m not sure what feels right. Maybe the answer is context: if you mean it physically, then maybe use the verb to go with it. If your intent is mental, maybe it’s to-ed and fro-ed. Who knows, but this is the type of thing I think about and it’s one of very many small pockets of the language that I don’t have an answer for.