Blog in 03 2012.
We've gone and got ourselves our first apprentices. Maddie and Meg were picked from Word Experience – a two-day work experience type thing where we invite 20 second-year uni students to Writer HQ.
Maddie and Meg are joining us for two weeks over Easter, three weeks in the summer and one week at Christmas. We'll show them the ways of the business writing world and get them making tea. Kidding.
This week marks their first week with us. So we thought it'd be rather fitting if they blogged about all the hot air on The Apprentice.
Our apprentices on The Apprentice
Hooray. It’s back. Another series of Lord Sugar wannabes who inevitably look like Big Brother contestants. But in suits. The difference is, this lot like to use business clichés and abstract metaphors almost as much as the boys’ team love their nasal-strips.*
The task this week was to design some kind of household gadget. The boys, being out-there, came up with a bin. But like the entrepreneurs they are, they called it a ‘waste compactor recycling appliance’. Which is about as easy-on-the-ears as Jenna’s voice.
Rhyming phrases seemed popular too. ‘All the gear but no idea’ was said by the unfortunately-named Ricky Martin. This from the guy who described himself in his audition video as ‘the reflection of perfection’. And Azhar, obviously made delirious by the team's design prowess, wrongly referred to himself as the ‘killer whale of the sea world’. Ahem.
At least no-one is yet to be inspired by Ed from the last series. He used the phrase ‘rolling with the punches’ every 2.47 seconds until we all wanted to roll a punch into his face.
The boys’ second genius idea came from greengrocer Adam. ‘Magic Hands’ were washing-up gloves with a scourer and sponge stuck to them. But at least the name gave you an idea of what it was. Less of a mouthful than ‘waste compactor recycling appliance’.
Thankfully, the elaborately-named invention was shortened to Eco-Press. Much more human-friendly.
*Stephen’s a big fan. He got up to answer the phone just to show off his breathing aid/deep cleansing strip.
And here's another
Right. Let’s all stop hating on Maria for having a snooze in the car. You’d be exhausted too if you had to cavort around London in rush hour, hawking a bit of plastic for £17.99.
What’s more annoying is the contestants’ strange habit of complicating simple words. In the boys’ corner last night, they were so eager to sound businessy that Stephen called compost ‘produce’ and ‘goods’. While Duane was banging on about putting the cafetiere-cum-composter on his desktop. Desktop?
And it was no better when it came to the girls and their Alanis Morisette-esque faux pas*. Ladies, it’s not really ironic that there’s water on the floor after you’ve put up the Splish-Splash. That’s just a product that doesn’t work.
Somebody else that had a problem with it was Lord Sugar himself. He asked the people of Twitter** if they could ‘believe that piece of junk?’ He was referring to the toy. Sorry, ‘entertainment centre’.
Oh dear, girls. You should’ve gone with the pointless ‘tap cosy’ after all.
*She thought it was ironic to have rain on her wedding day and a black fly in her Chardonnay.
**If you’re not following Lord Sugar yet, do it now. His tweets are so brutal and so grammatically inaccurate they make for a cracking read.
Next time you get given a daunting writing job, spare a thought for Lord Denning. In 1963, the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, asked Denning, a judge, to lead an enquiry into the Profumo affair and report back on what he’d found.
Serious stuff. Not only had Profumo’s dalliance with Christine Keeler destroyed the credibility of the government, it had also posed a threat to national security at the height of Cold War paranoia (Keeler was involved with a Russian naval officer at the same time).
So you’d think Denning’s official report would be uber-formal, stiff and dry. But, surprisingly, it isn’t. In fact, it’s a thumping good read. No wonder it was described at the time as ‘the raciest and most readable Blue Book ever published’ – the lurid subject matter obviously accounted for much of its appeal, but it’s also really well written.
We’re always telling people they can be serious without being formal. And I think Denning achieves that brilliantly. He never seems like he isn’t taking the Profumo scandal seriously. But, for the time, his writing sounds straightforward and relaxed – certainly more so than a lot of legal or government writing you could read today.
Here are three things I think Denning does particularly well. Give them a whirl for your next corporate report. If Denning could do it, so can you.
1. Using informal words and phrases
Denning throws in some pleasingly informal phrases considering he was writing an official report for the Prime Minister. He often refers to Christine Keeler ‘sleeping with’ both Profumo and the Russian: in the context, the euphemism sounds positively racy. And elsewhere he writes about someone taking out a lease on a house to ‘do it up’.
In other words, he’s writing more like he’d speak, and that makes his report much easier – and more fun – to read.
2. Borrowing literary tricks
Just because you’re writing something serious doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. Denning certainly did.
At times, his report reads more like a thriller: ‘The newspaper kept their photographs of the letter. After all, they had paid Christine Keeler £200. Maybe the letter would come in useful one day,’ ends one chapter tantalisingly.
Who wouldn’t want to read on? Meanwhile, the last chapter – a gossipy dissection of various rumours involving government ministers – boasts subheadings that sound like the titles of mystery novels, like ‘The Spaniard’s Photograph’, ‘The Man in the Mask’, or, most intriguingly, ‘The Man Without a Head’.
3. Starting sentences with ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘so’
In case you needed any further proof that it’s okay to start sentences with conjunctions, here’s Denning doing it three times in the same paragraph:
‘It would be a security matter if Mr Profumo was sharing a mistress with a Russian Naval Attaché – if it meant that there was a flow of secret information passing through her from one to the other. But Ivanov had now left the country. So any present risk had gone. And there was no reason to suppose that any information had passed from Mr Profumo through to the girl.’
He does this throughout the report, and it adds real pace and urgency to the writing. So next time someone tells you off for doing it, just tell them that an eminent High Court judge did it – way back in 1963.
So we're still trawling on with our 100 word plays. If you want to read more, scroll down and read our last three thingamablogs. There's also some on the Royal Court's website. If you've had a go at writing one, you can enter it on the same website. It might get stuck somewhere in the Royal Court building.
Today's play says a lot in just 100 words.
One empty cup
A couple in a coffee shop.
Man stirs his flat white. Woman stares at her empty hot chocolate.
Man smiles at Woman weakly.
Man: We used to come here all the time.
Woman: It’s gotten trendy. I hate trendy.
Man: I like it.
Do you want another?
The last one burnt my tongue.
Man: Oh. You didn’t say.
Woman: It wouldn’t have changed anything.
Man: It might've helped.
Woman: It wouldn’t. You’d still be stirring your coffee into a whirlpool. Frowning but not saying what I need to hear. Staring at me. And my tongue would still be burnt.
All this week we're trying our hand at 100 word plays. If you've missed why we're doing it, read this. Here's today's.
The opposite of bothered
Max rings the doorbell. Ava opens the door.
Ava: Max, where’s your key?
Max: Hey. Look, I think we should split up or something.
Ava stares at the mole on his forehead for about a minute.
Max: It’s just that I don’t think you really listen to what I say. Ever.
Ava stares at the hair sprouting out the mole for another minute.
Ava: I know where your key is. It’s on the side. You left it on the side, with a note.
Max: Yeah. Did you read it?
Ava: No. What did it say?
Max: Well, it said I’m leaving.
Today's 100 word play, or thereabouts, looks like this.
Based on a true story
Theo is driving. His wife, Olivia, is next to him and their daughter, Alice, is in the back seat.
Olivia checks the rear-view mirror.
Olivia: They’re following us.
Alice looks out the back window.
Olivia: The security police. But it’s okay, darling. Don’t worry.
Alice: They don’t look very happy.
Theo: Try giving them a little wave. It might cheer them up.
Alice waves out the back window.
Alice: Helloooo, Mr Security Policeman.
She turns back towards her parents.
Alice: They still don’t look happy. Are you sure we know them?
Olivia: Actually, we don’t know them at all. But they know us. They know all about us.