Geoffrey Mather

northtreknews (@ - insert symbol)gmail(dot)com



May I have a word?


People say things in an unprecise manner these days, and then they have to explain what they meant in the first place. Stand up, Boris Johnson. But on reflection, times don't really change. There's nothing new about people being imprecise in their speech.

Long, long ago I interviewed Matt Busby of Manchester United. I had never met him before. A sports writer accompanied me. The three of us were in Matt's office. A ritual quickly established itself. I would ask question. Matt would reply, often beginning with the words, as Scots do, "The sittyation..." And at the conclusion of his few words of wisdom, the sports writer would step in and say, "What Matt means by that is..."

Matt and me would wait for the interpretation to end before carrying on.

Words generally can be confusing. They are often altered by whim. Drinkers who originally went for a drink now go for a jar. When they say, "Come on, I'll buy you one," they mean, "We will buy each other several and my original remark is merely intended to imply that I am a generous soul bent only on charity."

"One for the road" means one for yourself. "What are you having?" means, literally, "I would prefer you to have what I am having because that is the only way we will keep a monetary balance and a reasonable relationship."

"Same again," spoken in a group, can mean, "Give them what they had before, and fast, because someone has just sneaked in to the group and he drinks doubles." It is, therefore, an appeal for help.

"It must be my round" means that you are utterly convinced in your own mind that it is not, but if the culprit is not man enough to own up, that is on his conscience.

Only undertakers have reached the conclusion that people never die.

They pass on. They pass over. They ascend. They go to a better life. They cross the barrier. They are called to a better place. They are translated.

To relatives, loved ones are "never ever forgotten." How could they be? You can't choose what stays in your memory when it is a member of your family.

Union leaders never investigate. They "look into the matter" and so sound like doctors examining a skin infection.

Civil servants are civil to be dominant. If they suggest that what you have done merits gaol they would remain your obedient servants.

Committees do not become unnerved by problems. They let them lie on the table. It's the easy way out.

Organisations do not have dances; they have functions (as opposed to the functions recognised by the medical profession).

Many functionaries do not thank people. They express their thanks.

Apparently speed counts in that case.

Employers say, "What is all this about?" in conversation. But if the same point is made by letter, they go all pompous - "With reference to the remarks you made..." or, "With regard to the question you raise in your letter of..."

(It is no accident that one of the most majestic outlines in Pitman's shorthand represents the phrase, "We are in receipt of your letter of yesterday's date." Now, alas, the Post office is not notably as swift as it apparently was for Mr Pitman.)

Barristers are more relaxed than solicitors, and their humour tends to bubble nicely. I recall one who was asked whether he had children. "Yes," he said, "I have an heir and two residuary legatees."

Mortal men give an opinion. Judges give their considered opinion.

People in working men's clubs might say, "With regard to that remark," so aping letters they have had from officials. Everything acceptable is "100 per cent." A doubtful fact can become "it is a well-known fact" to give it a doubtful respectability. If conversation becomes fractious, someone will say, "With all due respect..." meaning that there is really no respect whatsoever.

The Queen is graciously pleased. The middle classes are happy to oblige. Those of no particular place in the hierarchy"give it a go."

A gentleman is quite often at stud to perpetuate the line. His ladies in some cases, alas, are for breeding and actresses historically were for fun.

Gentlemen have timepieces rather than watches, and their daughters are "gals". Their sons, meanwhile, are always Up at somewhere. Up at Rugby. Up at Oxford. Until, of course, some turn naughty and are Sent Down.

I heard of some poor soul who was dismissed as "not being Bucks material."

To sum up my own status in this:

With reference to life, giving a considered opinion, after due deliberation, it has ups and down, but things are almost 100 per cent and that is a good thing, of which I am fully cognisant, to have a jar with friends before ring-a-dinging home or passing on, or over, in this splendid period of our verbally faulted island history.

To which I am inclined to add, Amen.


Jack (Lord) Ashley

Sir John Barbirolli

Sir Osbert Sitwell

The Queen at 90

Bryson: the words that smile

The boy in Aleppo

The Queen's Speech that never was

Lord Bragg

Donald Campbell

Sir Neville Cardus and John Arlott

Ronald Carter, blacksmith

Violet Carson (Ena Sharples)

"The magic of Shakespeare swept me off my feet. Then I'm back to 'Ee, by gum' in the Street. It trapped me. It made me, if you like: it has gone all over the world. But it has destroyed me, because nobody sees me or anything about me."

Dame Catherine Cookson,

Earls, Dukes and Godly Men

Dame Gracie Fields & me

Ronald Fraser

Dame Thora Hird

Lionel Jeffries

(Railway Children)

Russell Harty

L S Lowry (above)




"You're not getting your ball back," she used to shout. "You'll kill somebody, you lot."

The crucible (climbing)




Grannie Morshead

Pubs and landlords

Wing and a prayer


Genius Family

Lancashire pride

Is democracy dead?

The best of whimsical fiction

North-South divide

The pleasures and agonies of Spring,

George Best at 20


Summer of 2006


Buddhism + life (Manjushri, Lake District) Life and Living 1 Life and Living 2 Life and Living 3

Rant: rumbles and grumbles. Lancashire affairs. Snippets: Bits and pieces.

copyright: Geoffrey Mather 2017

  • Retrospective

  • (collected in one spot)
  • On growing old
  • So there they were - Hollywood dominating the world with its Clark Gables, Jean Harlows, Spencer Tracys, Garbos and Bogarts, tears in its eyes, inventive, vulnerable, blessed by climate, limos and money but tormented, insecure and edgy as fledglings in nests.
  • Bennett's art is to take the apparently trivial - his mother's views of "her betters" and so on - and make them meaningful in much larger ways. Miss Shepherd tested all his beliefs and inhibitions one by one. The two of them existed together, but in worlds apart, like aliens. And yet, I suspect, it was the sameness that reached furthest into the writer's psyche. His long essay on Miss Shepherd is superb. Even on the second reading, I was laughing out loud, to the disgust of the dog,, and in the next sentence feeling for Bennett's own agony. So you have this magic formula, where the relationship between two people over 20 years can match the life experiences of us all. 

  • .

    "I am all for the unusual on Page One. I do not read stories of the type headed ' Bandits gag, tie up woman' very much nowadays because people are always gagging and tying up women. Such incidents are as common as gas-oven suicides." 

    Arthur Christiansen

    became editor of the Daily Express in October, 1933, a position he held for 24 years until 1957. During his editorship sales peaked at two million in 1935, over three million in 1944 and four million in 1949. Each day he wrote a bulletin. It was compulsory reading for members of editorial staff. Here are many of those bulletins.

    The Beaverbrook Saga

    The newspaper crisis


    + Molloy of the Mirror + Clive James + Churchill + Big-ego words + Vanishing language + Noam Chomsky's words + Great words of great events

  • In spite of his own eccentricities, he wanted the world to behave as he expected it to. Big companies, shops, waiters and hotel managers were his normal fodder. He terrorised them. When he snagged a coat on something protruding in Woolworth's, he said to the manager, "This is an expensive coat." "I can see it is," said the manager. "I noticed it when you came in." "Right," said Brian Duff, "I expect you to pay for it. And I don't want it invisibly mended because you can see it."
  • Ian Skidmore

    Sir James Scott Douglas (gossip columnist)

    When an editor complained of his booking into an expensive London hotel - the Dorchester as I recall - at the firm's expense, James merely said, "Where else can one entertain one's proprietor?" and the matter was hurriedly concluded, since no-one was prepared to phone (the late) Sir Max Aitken, who bossed the place at the time.

    I asked Jim (I always called him Jim, to be perverse, though it was obvious that he was entitled to James) to find out something one day - on the phone, I emphasised - and he said, "Oh yes, I shall ring" - go on, guess - "...Uncle Essex." It made me wish I had an Uncle Oswaldtwistle

    James had a habit of living extravagantly and encountering hard times, which is how he came to be a journalist. Both conditions were once almost fundamental to the job.

    Pub Talk with Peter Thomas

    Accrington Observer Observed

    Peter Stringfellow

    Edna the Traveller

    The pearl hunter

    Blaster Bates

    RSM Lord

    Concert Secretary

    Champion eater

    Witch woman

    Railway Children

    Mathers of Salem

    Crown and Kettled

    Railway Children

    Billiards halls


    Holy fizz


    TV to do



    St George's Day

    Selwyn Lloyd

    Lt Gen Sir Oliver Leese

    Theodore Major

    Sir John Moores

    Albert Modley

    Beatrix Potter

    Frank Randle

    Bill Shankly

    Les Dawson,

    Fred Dibnah,

    Dudley Doolittle (comic),

    Lady Anne Clifford

    Maureen Lipman

    The Immortal Griffin


    Soccer language