I Like Jazz

The Pros from Dover are coming

Culture Shift

joesf čapek

charley harper

face value


Did I say that out loud? I certainly didn't when I was at secondary school surrounded by wood shavings of the letters A, C, D & C carved into wooden desks with bare finger nails. It's alright being an individual but in some instances you're much better blending in. Keeping schtum.

They had all the logos, the t-shirts, the mullets, the denim jackets, the patches.

I was 13 and my English teacher asked a packed class, "who likes Jazz?" and went on to describe the intense pleasure of placing the needle on a Billy Holiday record, opening a bottle of wine and getting smashed. I got it instantly and immediately wanted to stick my hand up, to "come out" in some musical sense.
Now, if he'd been some roguish Sam Shepard type of literary figure, I might have thrown my lot in with him.
However, he was a Mr Bean type literary figure. I weighed up my options and instead threw him under the bus.
However, to this day I remember the desire to raise my hand, stand tall and say 'I like jazz - who the fuck wants some!!??"
But it didn't happen. The mob won.

Looking back I realise what the real problem was.
They had all the stuff, the logos, the t-shirts, the mullets, the denim jackets, the patches.
I had nothing. I couldn't pin a badge on or draw a logo on a copy book to subtly signal my love for the dominant seventh flat five.
At that stage my only option was to stand up in class and confess to it in some sort of soviet show trial.

Years later I eventually found the only other person in town who liked jazz.
I made a pin badge of Miles Davis' On the Corner cover cut out from a review in The Wire magazine.
I wore it into into a pub in town one night.
Iggy Beattie came up and offered me £1 for it. I gave it to him.
It turned out I had Bitches Brew, he had In a Silent Way… the mix tapes flowed.

About 5 years later I was at a gig at the Queen's University Arts Festival.
They had a jazz festival - one of the best in Europe at the time.
The venue was known as the Guinness Spot (John Scofield named a song after it).
The band was Stan Tracey's Hexad. I think it was £3 in (Pete King was on Alto).
There was the English teacher - left of the stage. He spotted me and came over during a break.
"I never knew you liked Jazz" he said.
"You never asked" I said.

So I've made the perfect t-shirt for the closet jazz lover. The t-shirt I needed when I was 13.
To the mob it just looks like an accountancy firm.
To those in the know it's got jazz written all over it.

Miles Davis Quartet tshirt

Miles Davis' 2nd great quartet

Trapper John: Look, mother, I want to go to work in one hour. We are the Pros from Dover and we figure to crack this kid's chest and get out to the golf course before it gets dark. call the kitchen and have them rustle us up some lunch. Ham and eggs will be all right. Steak would be even better. And then give me at least ONE nurse who knows how to work in close without getting her tits in my way.

Nurse: How do you want your steak cooked?

DIAGNOSIS: The Big C (Congestion)

We talk of cities in personal/human terms. They’re the ‘beating heart’ of an economy. Cities have financial ‘nerve-centres’. We talk of ‘arterial routes’ into the city. They have a ‘circulation’ of people and traffic. People are seen as the ‘life-blood’ of a city. When people can flow freely they work more efficiently, spend more, exercise more, live better and the city thrives. When people stop flowing a city get’s fat, slow, stressed, congested, clogged, polluted & angry until it eventually starts… to… grind… to… a… STOP!

When the Pros from Dover arrive you know you’re in trouble. They’re the guys you call when the patient’s about to check out. They’ll cut off a limb or remove an organ, scrub up and go golfing because it’s not their problem - it’s yours. They’re in control because you lost control and they’re gonna crack your chest and be out on the golf course before it gets dark.

Belfast is the patient and it get’s its chest cracked open roughly every 10 years and the Pros from Dover are the road builders. The diagnosis is always congestion. The patient always opts for major surgery. It got itself into this situation by not reducing car use, not improving public transport and not taking regular exercise. It wouldn’t take the medicine and it’s gonna get its chest cracked open again and it’s never pretty. This isn’t keyhole surgery, it’s major surgery, it leaves massive scars, takes years to recover and chances are it won’t work.

PRESCRIPTION: Car implants

Here’s a reminder about how major the surgery can be. Go back in the 1960s when Belfast elected for cars implants as the best way to circulate people. The consultants advised encircling Belfast in a network of motorways. (Only a portion of the original plans were implemented). The road builders cracked open the docks area, removed 5000 people from Sailortown and implanted the M2. A community was broadcast throughout greater Belfast and their houses bulldozed. A perfectly healthy, functioning limb amputated to make way for a prosthetic motorway.

The Sailortown community blame politicians (the Belfast Corporation) and their own lack of political savvy but never pinned the blame squarely on a rising car culture. The only finger pointing is the artwork on the concrete pillars of the M3 flyover, old photographs of Sailortown framed in rear view mirrors. Sailortown is now essentially a series of public and private surface car parks along and between Corporation St. and York Rd. topped with a 4 lane flyover.

Some of the displaced community were moved into multi-storey buildings in the New Lodge overlooking Sailortown. It must be hard looking down to where your family house once was and see 2-3 parking bays in its place. It’s an upside-down world where we demolished houses for surface car parks and then placed the community in multi-storey accommodation. Incidentally, there are more trees planted and more green spaces in and around the car parks in Sailortown (Clarendon Dock/Corporation St) than the whole of the New Lodge.
I’m not doubting the need for the M1, M2 & M3 but I doubt the destruction of Sailortown would be acceptable now. There were probably alternatives.


Since then Belfast has had its chest cracked open roughly every 10 years. That’s about the time it takes for the politicians to dodge the tough decisions, funding to become available and the driving public to forget the chaos caused by the last major surgery. The Westlink in the 80s was only a stop gap. In the early 2000s the road builders put in stents by widening it (increasing 2 lanes to 3 by stealing a hard shoulder and narrowing the lanes), hoping they would clear out the fatty deposits by increasing the flow. They didn’t. They dug it all up and put in a new tunnel with balls on top in 2008. But it was never going to cure inner-city congestion and it didn’t. Belfast is once again the most congested city in the UK. The 18th most congested city in the World. It’s calling in the surgeons again.

The M1, M2 and M3 effectively diverts an increasing amount of traffic from the city centre. They increase the flow around the outskirts of the city but the major side-effect is the funnelling of an ever growing number of cars into the same limited city-space. We keep widening the neck of the funnel but we can’t increase the size of the bottle. The flow of cars into the funnel isn’t constant and steady either, it’s a massive adrenaline rush once in the morning and once in the evening from Monday to Friday putting the whole system into shock.


When I was young we didn’t talk about Caner. It was a disease with no cure. If we didn’t talk about it might go away. It was always referred to as “The Big C”. Cancer Awareness Campaigns lowered anxiety levels and gave us a way to talk openly about the disease leading to greater awareness and an ability to identify the symptoms and practice prevention.

The Big C now seems to be “Congestion”. We’re certainly not talking about it and it’s certainly not going away. Our political leaders aren’t talking about it yet the air we breath gets more toxic and society less active, more stressed and obese as a result. We can’t really tackle the problem until we have reasoned, grown-up discussions about it. Perhaps we need a Congestion Awareness Campaign?

We need to be able to talk about alternatives. To talk about public and private businesses adopting co-ordinated ‘travel plans’ to create a smaller, steadier, more predictable flow of people (and cars) throughout the day. We need to rethink public and private parking and talk about freeing up the space it currently occupies. We need to divert spending from roads and talk about sustainable transport. We need to talk about building places where people can live, work, socialise and raise a family without the need for a car. We designed ourselves into this situation and we can design ourselves out of it when we start focusing on people not cars.


After 40 years of rib cracking Belfast has failed to crack car congestion. The surgery hasn’t worked. Cardiac arrest is now a regular symptom. Belfast has to decide if it wants to prioritise the health and well being of people or keep injecting cars into every artery, vein and capillary of the city.

Does it want a city where walking and cycling is a real, viable, safe alternative… or not? Does it want a city where children and disabled citizens can move around the city safely… or not? Does it want to plant trees and create green spaces for people… or cars. Does it want to create a city where public transport is the fastest, cleanest, cheapest way of getting about… or not? Does it want a city where people can live, work and raise a family without the need for a car… or not? Does it want to elect politicians to make tough decisions and talk about the issues… or kick the can up the road for another 10 years. The medicine is relatively cheap but the politics are never easy. That’s the challenge not only for Belfast but for every large town across the country.

While we ponder all that, The Pros from Dover are packing their clubs, they’re most likely heading for York Street and they’ll want that steak well done.

This was first published on the Bikefast blog in March 2017.

Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland, M*A*S*H

"My cigarette is the mild cigarette, that's why Chesterfield is my favourite" - Ronald Regan

The density of the road network coupled with lower number of cars suddenly strikes an almost perfect balance.

I started smoking in 1986. I was 16. Everyone smoked. My Da smoked. All my teachers smoked - in class, constantly. At 16 you could bring a note from your parents giving you permission to smoke in school. Friends smoked, brother smoked, girlfriend smoked. I started work at 18 in a local newspaper, I smoked at my desk. I could smoke on the bus to work. I could smoke on a train. I could smoke in a plane. I could smoke in a hospital. I could smoke in a bar. I could smoke in a restaurant. I could smoke in McDonalds. The Embassy World Snooker Championship was on TV. Snooker players smoked. Darts players smoked. Footballers smoked in dugouts and managers smoked on the touchline. Marlboro hung over the gantries in F1 racing, JPS, Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges plastered the cars and the drivers.
In many ways I was lucky though, at the start of the 90s smoking culture began to be dismantled. It still took me another 10 years to quit though.

In the 25 years we've spent raising the bar on access and opportunity to tobacco we have lowered the bar on our access and opportunity to use cars. We now live in a society where it's almost seen as a human right to own a car. Easy finance and a saturated 2nd hand market mean it's not just one car, 2, 3 and 4 cars isn't uncommon in some households. In most schools, student cars now outnumber those of staff in the school car park. Vehicles once used by the military now drop children off to primary schools. Children don't play outside, instead they're driven to swimming clubs, football clubs, youth clubs and driven home again - ironically because the roads are now too dangerous for children to walk or cycle. In the same 25 years the simple VW golf has become twice as heavy, twice a powerful, considerably longer and wider. The new Mini is a mini in name only.

The right tool for the right job.
"City fathers have to choose. Cars or bicycles. And in Copenhagen they’ve gone for the bike.The upshot is a city that works. It’s pleasing to look at. It’s astonishingly quiet. It’s safe. And no one wastes half their life looking for a parking space. I’d live there in a heartbeat." - Jeremy Clarkson.

The car's a great thing. Covering long distances in short time they're an amazing invention. But they were never intended to solve the problem of short distances. They were invented to replace those long journeys where railways didn't run. Where horses still pulled carriages long distances. 100 years ago trams, buses, bikes and walking had solved the problem of transport in inner cities but somehow a car culture left unchecked has eroded these systems and turned all city and town centres into car parks and traffic jams. In a similar way car culture eroded a rural public transport system. The train network was scrapped 60 years ago and isn't coming back. We have a patchwork public transport network in rural areas - in rural communities the car is now essential.

The solution for transporting large volumes of people efficiently in inner cities is the same in 2013 as it was in 1913 - trams, buses, bikes and walking. In terms of efficiency, value for money, health benefits and environmental benefits there's a clear winner - the bike.

World class cycle infrastructure - free of charge.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein.

The current demand is for a bridge across the Lagan to the Gasworks in Belfast. In Belfast there are currently 8 bridges across the river Lagan where cycling is possible. All along a relatively short stretch of river. Most have 2 lanes some have 4 lanes. All have footpaths. They're all fairly modern and well maintained. Why do we need another bridge solely for cyclists? Why can't we claim one of the existing bridges, or a lane or two at no cost? And while we're there a few of those minor roads, currently used as 'rat-runs' where a car has no business being. We can create dedicated cycle only roads in and out of the city linking up with Greenways, towpaths at no cost. The call for more 'cycle infrastructure" is always met with "we can't afford it". But we've already paid for it - it's all in place we simply need to shift our thinking on how we allocate it. Rather than continually calling for segregation of bikes, we should rapidly integrate bikes into a ready-made infrastructure. Segregation may still be needed between Greenways and inner city but within the city centre reduced car usage should make segregation largely redundant.
One of the things you realise when living in a rural area is, there's really enough room for everyone. The density of the road network coupled with lower number of cars suddenly strikes an almost perfect balance. To do the same in inner cities we need to reduce car access in key locations. The density of roads exists but there are too many cars allowed unrestricted access.
Here's a quick one. Botanic Avenue, Dublin Road, Linenhall St should be totally car free. Scrap on-street parking in Ormeau Ave, Donegal St, Castle St and Clifton St and use the freed up space for 2 way bike lanes. Pinch a lane in Sunnyside Street and another on the Kings Bridge and instantly you have a high-speed, 10 minute network from one side of the city to the other.

Knowing isn't enough
"Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” Leonardo da Vinci.

Knowing tobacco was a killer for decades wasn't enough. I was 100% clear of consequences but still willingly bought into the smoking culture. Putting stickers on fag packets didn't work. TV commercials didn't work. Poster campaigns didn't work. Only when access and opportunity to cigarettes began to be restricted did the shift begin. I stopped smoking because i knew it was affecting my health, but crucially, it began costing too much and I couldn't smoke in all the places I used to.

Knowing that cars are a problem in towns and cities isn't enough. Painted lines and kerb stones without a cultural shift isn't enough. Painted lines and kerbs is the equivalent of putting a 'smoking kills' on fag packets, it's not persuading drivers out of their cars. As we did with tobacco we must do with cars, continue to tell people it's not good to use a car for every journey but we need to start restricting access, parking and raise prices.

When governments crunched the numbers, smoking was costing the NHS more than it was raking in in tobacco tax. If we can start boiling it down to 'value for money' then the argument and the culture shift will start.

Making cultural shifts.
So what measures do you introduce to start making the shift?

• Transport should be de-centralised and devolved to local authorites, it's not a one size fits all solution.
• Local authorities must produce a 5 year plan to reduce car usage in agreed areas and be forced to implement it.
• Proper, clean, extensive, reliable trams in Belfast, subsidised by expensive in-town parking and metered residential parking.
• Smart working from home. Victorian work practices that worked for industrial factories aren't applicable in a modern connected world. Over 30% of jobs in NI are in the Public Sector with the vast majority based in greater Belfast accounting for a lot of traffic each day. All the technology is in place to reduce the need to be in the office every day, can we start using it?
• No on-street parking in the "centres" of cities towns and villages.
• Cheap multi storey car parks just outside an agreed zone linking to, trams, bus and cycle network - "park and ride".
• Limited, very expensive multi storey car parking slightly further in, want to take your car into the city centre? You'll have to pay.
• Pay for parking in residential areas (residents with cars get a pass) - no more parking outside a strangers house all day without paying (visit the Holy Lands, Stranmills, Ormeau etc for examples).
• Visible bike culture - on street bike parking, stands outside shops, bars, cafés, pubs etc.
• Higher fuel costs in cities, lower fuel costs in rural areas.
• Trains/trams/buses that can take lots of bikes, at any time of day. Proper, covered, secure free bike parks at all stations
• Congestion tax.
• Park and ride (bus) at every motorway exit.
• More affordable, accessible car hire schemes - I don't need a car every day of the week.
• Bike hire at key locations - Universtiry, Titanic, City Hall, Waterfront etc.
• 20mph within all towns and cities.
• 50mph speed limit on all minor roads.
• 80mph on motorways - this is where the car works, free it up and compensate for lowered speed limits elsewhere.

I realise it all sounds very radical but these are measures employed in other parts of the world.

How will we know the shift has happened?
We'll know the shift has happened when we can say some of the following.

• I remember being able to park on the street close by the City Hall for £1 an hour
• I remember being able to park outside a complete stranger's house all day - free
• I remember being able to drive straight through the city centre, anytime day or night - free
• I remember being able to take the car to school and park in the staff car park
• I remember being able to drive at 30mph through residential streets and past primary schools
• I remember being able to drive any size of car, anywhere, at any time without any restrictions
• I remember being able to own as many cars as I wanted
• I remember when you rarely saw a bike in the city centre
• I remember when Government announced rising car sales as a good thing
• I remember we used to own a car

Cigarette butts, Writers' Square, Belfast.

Going through the book shelf again. Just a small gardening book that I picked up years ago for a few pence, again for the illustrations more that the prose. It's only now, after gardening for a number of years that I fully appreciate the text.

The illustrations, over 50 of them, are simple, playful, full of life and humour.

This beautiful book (160pp) was created by the Čapek brothers, Karel and Josef. Rather than a serious manual about what and how to plant, it's a humorous look at what it takes to be a gardener. You'll find no insightful tips and hints on pruning and planting but if you've gardened for any length of time, you'll see yourself among the pages. The prose is perfectly illustrated by Josek Čapek, painter, writer and poet and, strangely enough, inventor of the word 'Robot', from the Czech, 'Robota', meaning 'drudgery' or 'slave labour'.

The book was written in 1929 shortly before the Nazis came to power.


The illustrations, over 50 of them, are simple, playful, full of life and perfectly match the text.


Written in 1929, translated into English in 1931 and published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd, Museum Street, London.
Both brothers were fiercely anti Nazi and very outspoken. Josef died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.

© Karel Čapek, Josef Čapek.

“When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don't see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures”. Charles Harper.

I can almost hear Martin Denny playing on the phonogram in glorious High Fidelity Stereo…

I was a regular at Anderson's Auctions at the back of Linenhall Street, Belfast. I was after a lamp or an ashtray, or maybe it was a chair or that sauna I bought, I can't really remember but the lot also included a box of fusty medical books. They were mostly about forensic pathology and came from an old doctor's surgery.

They sat in my flat for a year or so, I was afraid to touch them. The thought of all those Victorian diseases pressed gently between the pages, ready to spring on some milky-skinned, soft, 20th century Irish man meant they were bound for the "long finger". A house move forced my hand. With the fingernails of index finger and thumb I clawed my way through the text books, dropping them one by one in a black bin liner. Before you accuse me of book burning/binning, don't bother because I don't care. I wasn't about to unleash the Black Death on an already war torn Belfast.

At the bottom of the pile was this gem, Betty Crocker's Dinner For Two Cook Book. A gem for a number of reasons. Its spiral-bound, handwritten type and simple sketches make it look like Betty Draper's dairy. The title hints to a culture moving away from family focused life. The war and rationing have ended. People are affluent, the world's gone high tech and children aren't the focus at mealtimes or any other time for that matter. In fact, children aren't mentioned at all in this book.

There's a great “exotic” section on “Foreign Lands”, I can almost hear Martin Denny playing on the phonogram in glorious High Fidelity Stereo and what's that… mmmmm mmmmm, it's the Ham and Bananas Hollandaise browning gently under the grill. Just enough time for another Scotch and some avocado dip.

Good Cook Knows
©charley harper good cook knows

Aside from all that, I held onto the book because of the illustrations. It's simply stuffed full of the freshest, most imaginative, effortless illustration you're likely to come across. It's an inspiration every time I pick it up. The book doesn't inspire you to cook, it inspires you to draw.

It's still readily available and a 1st edition has become pretty collectable. I put this down to Harper's illustrations rather than any ground breaking culinary achievement. As chance would have it, mine is a First Edition, First Print. Auctions!

When Company Comes
© charley harper when company comes

Good and Easy Diners
© charley harper good and easy diners

Setting the Table
© charley harper setting the table

Kitchen for Two
© charley harper kitchen for two

American Favourites
© charley harper american favourites

See lots more Harper illsutarions over at the flickr group.

They're bloody everywhere, lying on the floor, stuffed in jam jars, down the sofa, in the ashtray of the car, even lying on the feckin' pavement, once upon a time money stood for something.

the man charged with finding a suitable design for the new currency was none other than W.B. Yeats.

I'm not big on money, don't get me wrong, I worry about it as much as the next man but it's not the sort of thing to get me excited. On the other had it always got my Dad's heart going, not earning and spending it, but collecting it, sorting it, grading it. His brother Paddy owned a butcher shop in Carrickmore, he'd regularly go through his week's takings and sort out the wheat form the chaff, paying him like for like. At cattle markets and Ceili halls he'd spot the odd gem and throw it in the tin when he got home. Recently he decided to cash in his chips and see if it amounted to a hill of beans.

Down in the shed there's boxes, tins, jars, bags all filled with coins, possibly 20,000 or more. He randomly pulls out a round tin about 15cm high with a few hundred coins. They we're all old Irish coins from before decimalisaiton. The "old money" stayed in circulation along with the newly decimalised coins right up until the Irish Republic joined the Euro. Both Irish and British coins contained precious metal up until the mid 1940s, so for that reason alone they're collectable. I hadn't seen the coins for years, but it was almost like seeing them for the first time. No heads of state, adventurers, explorers, leaders and ground breaking scientists, a simple Irish Harp on one side and a humble farmyard animal on the other.

irish coins

Of all the coins he'd collected I found these the most interesting as they represented a nation attempting to establish some form of new global brand, one its citizens could (a) identify with and (b) accept. Ireland was still raw from civil war, the famine was only 60 years past and 600 years of British occupation had begun to recede. The new money had to tread carefully and avoid rubbing anyone's nose in it while at the same time represent the entire nation.
Beyond symbolising monetary values, the new currency must easily translate the nations values abroad, this was a time when coinage was truly the mark of a nation.

I dug a bit further and found a committee was established to design and mint a new currency and the man charged with finding a suitable design for the new currency was none other than W.B. Yeats. Yeats chaired a committee, commissioning a number of artists to produce samples for the coins. Ironically it was an englishman who won, Percy Metcalfe and the Royal Mint in England forged the coins.

The Irish Harp was to feature on the reverse and common farmyard animals on the face. The animals would be embraced by the entire nation, symbolising the importance of agriculture, especially in wake of the famine, still very much in living memory.

From the humble woodcock, sow and piglets and hen and chicks, an everyday sight in Irish homes at the time, through to the salmon, bull and horse, not surprisingly on the coins of higher value. They're all beautiful pieces of art, well worth collecting not only as coins but a reminder of how far a country traveled and how its values have changed in less that 100 years. Which got us thinking, if Ireland were to mint a new set of coins, what might they look like… ?

As I embark on this new venture I'm presented with a world of possibilities. Every font under the sun, every colour imaginable, gifs, jpegs, pngs of anything I care to think of. Instead I'll temper my excitement, stick to my guns, and knuckle down for fear of another dressing down.

it arrived back like a bloody suicide note, red ink from header to footer, covered in hieroglyphics that made no sense.

I left school at 18, Margaret Thatcher was still in power and Northern Ireland was not big on opportunity. I took a years training/apprenticeship at a local newspaper. Lunch, always extended, usually included alcohol before sauntering back to the office where the atmosphere was, well… laid back.  Everyone smoked at their desk, constantly. Work was a bit slap dash, law suits occurred frequently. It no longer exists, I think that speaks volumes. It was however a solid training ground and most of the people who went through it are still working in some related field.

They had the first real useable computers I’d seen, with a mouse and a GUI. It was light years away from sitting typing lines of code on a Commodore. Not only that but a laser printer spat out exactly what you saw on the screen. Most of the time it was even better than you saw on the screen as screen fonts back then were chronic. It sounds common place now but it was stunning. People sat at pasteboards (cut and paste…) with scalpels, cutting up galleys of type spewed out of the laser printer, pasting them down with prit for that week’s press. Spot colour, for that was all there was, was achieved by printing out sections onto acetate and pasting that over portions of advertising so the printer knew what to put on the ‘colour’ plate. There was no colour on the monitor, or the software (pagemaker) nor the printer for that matter, it was extremely limited in comparison to existing technology, but it was cheaper and more exciting!

Over the next few years the technology got better, faster and more colourful and I’d built up a bit of experience and also a lot of bad habits. Probably the worst habit was thinking I’d nothing more to learn, (that and putting 2 spaces after a full point).

By the mid 90s I’d found myself in the production room for the country’s school examination papers. The room was full of older men in various stages of retirement, myopia and alcoholism, crouched over pasteboards ticking, marking, scribbling, conferring, referencing, cutting and gluing. After a quick briefing where I was told “we use one font, no colour and a strict house style”, I thought “Holy shit, I’m back on square one”. I was lead to a Mac, Quark Xpress 3.0 and handed my first piece of work, type setting a straightforward marking scheme from handwritten manuscript. Simple, I thought, it’s all looks like Times New Roman so off I go bashing away. By the end of the day I’d done what I’d considered a reasonably good job, gave it a quick proof, stuck it in a job bag and went home. The next afternoon it arrived back like a bloody suicide note, red ink from header to footer, covered in hieroglyphics that made no sense. I prayed for the hole to open up. It didn’t. I sat there, staring at the bloody mess. I took a deep breath, admited I was floundering and went and spoke to “Big Eddy” Haughey, one of the older gents who sat opposite me.

”All the oul fellas are proof readers” said Eddy. Some had done it their whole lives, 40 years in some cases. Others had been typesetters in the 60s and 70s using phototypesetting and couple started life in newspapers using linotypes, technology dating back to Victorian times. They’d all worked at the Universities Press producing scientific encyclopedia, but had been slung on the scrap heap by youngsters who could operate a computer and a spell checker. I’d never thought of proofing as an actual trade, more an option on the “Edit” menu.

I showed him my copy like I used to show my mother a cut knee after riding a bike with no hands into a wall… intense pain with acute embarrassment. He looked down his nose, through his glasses and over his huge stomach at the red mess on his board. He sniffed and coughed. I flinched and winced. He pursed his lips and sucked in a room full of air and finally said… “it’s not too bad kid”. I exhaled a room full of air. He opened his drawer pulled out the style guide and a copy of the British Standard of Proof Readers Marks. He explained what the markup symbols meant and page by page I realised how little I knew about typography, about anything really. The difference between a forward slash and a solidus, an apostrophe and a prime, inches and quote marks, faux bold and Times Bold and on and on it went page after page. Every missing millimetre of indent, extra character space and typo was highlighted.  Every toner blotch, paper crease and tea stain was a visual dressing down. Absolutely nothing got through the net because nothing could afford to. He finally said “listen kid, we don’t do fancy shit here, just keep it 10on12 and you’ll be just fine”. “10 what on 12 what” I said. “10 point body on a 12 point leading”, he said.

15 years later and I’m wrestling with HTML, CSS and Expression Engine. The words body, markup and stylesheet still mean much the same thing, leading has become line height, tracking is letter-spacing, ems have replaced points so I suppose it’s true, the more things change the more they stay the same. It’s laborious in comparison to print technologies, but it’s cheaper and more exciting. So I’ll keep it simple, keep it 10on12, metaphorically speaking.  You don’t have to be fancy to be effective. You don’t have to decorate to communicate, stick to the basics, keep it simple and remember, experience usually trumps youth everytime.