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Sue Miles (1944-2010)

October 10th, 2010

Sue Miles, my friend of 40 years standing, died on Friday night. She was 66. She had had two varieties of cancer – brain, lung – for around a year. People talk piously of the ‘struggle’ or the ‘fight’ with cancer. Sue would have scorned such grandiosity. She didn’t do bullshit. She had such treatment as was made available, and that treatment, which works for some, didn’t do its job for her. Cancer, in my experience, is still a lottery. The treatments are much better, and get better every year, but still not everyone draws a winner’s ticket. I have many friends who are living with it. I have had  those who are not. To my infinite regret Sue is among the latter.

The upside, if there is such a thing, is that she lived her life. She had two children, now in their early thirties, and in the non-domestic sphere played an important role in a couple of  events that might be said to have changed the way London, and perhaps the country at large, now works. The first was the counter-culture of the 1960s, in which she played a central role, alongside her first husband the writer Barry Miles. the second was the ‘restaurant revolution’ of the 1980s, when she had moved from the world of poetry readings, underground papers and a role running the Friends of Oz defence team for the celebrated 1971 obscenity trial of that once-notorious magazine into the world of the professional kitchen.

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Coleman IV

October 3rd, 2010

A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries: Volume IV: 1937-1984 (OUP, ISBN-13: 978-0199567256) by Prof. Julie Coleman of Leicester University will be published on 28th October. The first volume appeared back in 2004 and covered the earliest slang dictionaries – which in truth and in many cases were neither devoted to slang but to the criminal jargon cant, and were not ‘real’ dictionaries but more properly glossaries. Two more followed before this new addition, and volume V, bringing the story up to date will appear. . . whenever that date happens to be. At £75.00 for 416pp it is frighteningly expensive, such is the way of academic books, and notwithstanding my great respect for the on-going work (and I must admit my friendship with the author – SlangWorld is a very small place) it may possibly not be piled up on the 3-for-2 table in Waterstones. If slang lexicography had a celebrity it was probably the 20th century’s Eric Partridge and he was not a man to stray very far from desk M-1 in the old British Library Reading Room. No best-selling Xmas memoir there, then.

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Where Do I Start?

September 28th, 2010

I have written since ever I could: school magazines, university newspapers, the ‘underground’ press, what was once called ‘Fleet Street’, academic and other journals and somewhere over 50 books. Mainly dictionaries for a long time now. Dictionaries of slang.

But not like this.

I have used this machine or at least its predecessors since 1983. Or maybe early 1984. Can’t honestly remember. It was an IBM PC with an external hard disk (20MBs, hey!) with a fat cassette system that offered tape backup and a screen that came up green on black. It ran on PC-DOS, the program that Bill Gates, still unknown beyond hackerdom, had lashed up for IBM. If you wanted to go from one directory to another you typed a string of letters and backslashes. Then a file name which could not exceed seven letters before the dot, and just three for the extension. There was a good deal of writing of commands. I cannot recall its memory chip: it would have been small. And slow. 4.77 GHz. I learned the hard, and maybe best way by typing in the contents of most of a dictionary’s 5×3 file cards, finding I’d missed a vital field and starting again.

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