The View From My Window – Torbay

The view from my window

As I stare vacantly out of the window, eating my breakfast, it’s suggested to me that I ought to write about what I can see. Well, because we overlook Torbay in Devon (UK), there’s quite a lot to see.

Torbay itself is like a huge bite taken out of the South Devon Coast (bizarrely, facing East) of about four miles diameter and consisting of the three towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. From our window (on a clear day) I can see out of the bay and right across to Sidmouth on the left, just peeping around the edge of the outstretched arm of Torquay, and along the Devon and Dorset coast to Portland to the right. The white cliffs of Bere Head are visible – unusual from the rest of the coast because most of the cliffs hereabouts are that glorious reddish brown so typical of Devon.

So on a clear day we have a view of almost 60 miles and there’s always something happening. But today it was the dolphins that got me going. For the second time this week there have been about 40 of them (in two distinct groups) going backwards and forwards just below us, presumably feeding – and here’s my point – in spite of the fact that we’re only three days from Christmas. The BBC news was getting very excited the other day with the announcement that researchers had ‘discovered’ that a pod of about 28 Dolphins has taken up residence around St Ives Bay. Presumably, they are excited because the dolphins appear to be over-wintering here.

Well, I’ve got news for them. From what I could count, I saw about forty whilst I was having my breakfast, and that’s not unusual. Believe me, there’s no better way to start the day than watching dolphins arcing out of the sea whilst you’re eating a croissant. Watch this space for updates on the view.

Lyme Bay showing field of view

As I said earlier, on a very clear day we can see Portland. You may think that a bit strange, since, if you are of average height, and stand on the beach with your toes almost in the water, the horizon will only be about 3 miles away. Our house is about 100 feet above sea level, so that increases the distance to the horizon to roughly 12 miles. So how come we can see Portland, which is about 50 miles away? Well, of course, we can’t see the shoreline – just the high ground. Even Sidmouth at 23 miles is only visible in its more elevated areas. But see it we can. The most striking feature of the Portland area is the 72 foot high Hardy Monument, three and a half miles inland from Abbotsbury. Built in memory of Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Hardy (of Battle of Trafalgar fame), it was designed in the shape of a spyglass and situated to be visible as a navigational aid for shipping up to 60 miles away. Thus, it is conveniently visible (on a very clear day and with the aid of a telescope) from my window as I eat my breakfast.

What better way is there to start the day than watching the dolphins and ensuring the Hardy Monument is in good order?

If you only do one thing today – get a Fender Stratocaster

Looks wonderful on the wall

You don’t have to be able to play it – or even tune it. Just hang it on the wall and look at it. It’s an object of beauty and promise. Just touching it is a joy.

I started playing the guitar in my mid teens, and you could be excused for thinking that I should be quite good by now. Well I’m not. From my thirties until about a year ago (thirty years later) I stopped playing. What got me going again was a brand new Squier (by Fender) Bullet Strat I bought on the internet. I couldn’t believe you could buy a new “Strat” for so little, but hey, it would look good on the wall.

And I love it. The Fender Stratocaster is one of the most ubiquitous guitars of the last 50+ years and (in my opinion) it meets all of the criteria for a work of art. It looks good, feels good and, as a bonus, can sound good too. It is a triumph of form and function.

Of course, if you get one, you’ve got to take it down from the wall from time to time. And with a little practice it plays beautifully. It has an action that makes it a pleasure to play and handle – and this is the bottom of the range model, for goodness sake – and now I’ve even pimped it with a floral leaf pattern, just to make it unique.

I’ve got my eye on an “American Elite” Stratocaster in Sky Burst Metallic with maple fingerboard, which is a lot more money, and the day I win the lottery will be the day I order one of those. I will hang it on the wall next to the Squier, and take it down to play whenever I get the chance. In my hands it won’t sound any better than its forebear, but wow. What’s better than a Strat? Two, of course.

Your call is important to us – but . . .

How many times have you made a call to a business, only to get a recorded message that goes something like this? “Your call is important to us, but we are extremely busy at present. Please hold on on and we will get to you as soon as possible.”

And then another voice cuts in and informs you that waiting time is currently 15 minutes – 30 minutes – an hour!!!?

When I hear this type of message I actually interpret it as “Your business doesn’t matter to us at all. Although we are a large company, to maximise our profits we minimise the number of staff who man the phones”.

There’s no excuse for it and some companies (I won’t mention any by name) always seem to give out that message, even at the quietest of times. Which leads me to conclude that they man their call answering services secure in the knowledge that the poor punter will always wait – because he has no other choice.

Here’s an idea. What about these offending businesses trying a different tack? How about prompt, personal service? Answering the phones with a real person thus creating a genuine relationship. In my business, I value my clients and certainly want to talk to them whenever they ring.

I’m not sure what the benefit of writing this is. I can’t think that any of these offenders will change their ways. But I’d be interested to know if anyone agrees with me on this – that I’m not a lonely voice, crying in the void out of sheer frustration. If you give me a call, I promise I’ll answer it – personally.

What is an ‘en rule’ – and why does it matter?

In pre-computer days, when artwork was created and drawn on a drawing board and pasted-up on line-board, the processes were fairly complicated and required a thorough knowledge of the production and print processes. The advent of the computer into design and artwork was a massive step, and I benefited from that because I used to create artwork the old way and was now able to be much more adventurous (and quicker) by using ‘desk-top publishing’ as it used to be called.

Things have come on a long way since then, but not always for the better. Modern computer software has meant that anyone reasonably computer literate can buy software and produce a result. Because they have personally produced it, they naturally think that it’s wonderful. They can ‘work’ the software, and output something which, at first glance, appears quite good.

In actual fact, upon inspection, these results do not always stand up to scrutiny. Are they really the sort of thing a professional company should be putting out? Do they present the image of the company correctly? Is the photography (if applicable) clear, enhancing that message and adding to the general effectiveness of the leaflet, advertisement, web page – whatever is being created. And is the type legible and the layout coherent, so that the reader can follow the message?

And that is where you can tell the difference between a professional and a mediocre job. Quite often – in the typography.

Have a look at that last paragraph. Just before the last three words there is a dash. Or a hyphen. Or – what? There’s another one!

It’s an en rule. Typographically, (to quote the Oxford Guide to Style, which is my preferred bedtime reading) it is ‘as the name indicates, a rule that is an en in length, which makes it longer than a hyphen and half the length of an em rule’. We used to use the term ‘1 em of set’ in the days when type was a physical chunk of lead. So, if you had 12pt (point) type, 1 em was 12pt wide. Similarly, on 72pt type, 1 em would be 72pt wide. And therefore, an ‘en’ on 12pt type would be 6pt wide. (A point is a printing measurement of approximately 1/72nd of an inch.)

And that’s what you should use, not a hyphen, which is altogether shorter. This – is a hyphen, whereas this – is an en rule. And this—is an em rule (sometimes called a dash), which can be used instead of an en rule, but notice how with an em rule, common usage dictates that there is no space either side of the rule, whereas an en rule has one space either side. And a hyphen? Well that should never be used in this context, so it doesn’t really matter whether you have space either side or not. It’s still wrong.*

Does all of this matter? Probably not, unless you care about the subtleties of language and the appearance of good typography. In a few years, everything will be reduced to the good old hyphen and we’ll be non the wiser. Now the en rule is on the decline, I read that people are questioning the necessity of the apostrophe. Where will it end?

Still, the en rule has one use for me. Whenever a leaflet, magazine, poster, brochure or even web site is presented to me I quickly scan it for the presence of en rules. If there are none – only hyphens – then I know. This material has been created by someone who doesn’t quite understand what they’re doing.

To get an en rule on a Mac, hold down the alt key and hit the hyphen key (to the right of zero at the top of the keyboard). If you hold down the shift key and hit the same key, you will get an underscore. If, however, you want an em rule (remember, the longer of the two), hold down the alt and shift keys together and hit the hyphen. This is on a Mac. I’m not sure what the codes are on a PC. Or on an iPhone, so worryingly, all of my text messages have to use hyphens instead of en rules. The recipients must think I’m an idiot!

*The appearance of en, em (and any other rules) varies with different fonts. The particular font I am using here does not show very marked differences between the en rule and the hyphen, although there is one shown when they are juxtapositioned as here where an en rule follows a hyphen ‘- –’. I would also add that the guidelines for which to use and when, and whether to have spaces, are many and varied. I will not try and include them all here but would recommend using a good style guide. It may seem rather fussy looking at all of the uses when the eye reads the type so quickly and does not take in the detail, but if you have a section of text which is complicated with quotations and other parenthetical matter, correct use of rules can make for greater clarity.

And one last example. I’m sorry, I can’t resist this one. This is a direct quote from the above mentioned Oxford Guide to Style. “Use the en rule spaced to indicate individual missing letters: ‘F – – –   off’ he screamed”. Sorry about that! If you must swear, at least do it in style.