I always thought the word pedant meant something you hung around your neck. But ever since I became one, a pedant that is – hardly an item of jewellery – I now know differently. Turns out, 57 per cent of people are pedantic. Well, 56.99999 per cent actually.
It comes from people in my early life who passed on to me their love of reading, and from the fact that because I knew lots of words after leaving school – because I’d read so much – the only thing I could do was write stuff. Words mostly. So I decided to become a best-selling writer. The Great Australian Novel (GAN), I thought, it’ll be a snap – and I’ll get to show off all the words I know.
A snap, not so much. Bloody difficult actually. To be brutally honest, I’m still writing it, about 150 years after I first thought about writing it. And, sadly, the plot has only slightly changed in all that time.
To be in a position to write the GAN, and stay alive, I thought, become a journalist. They use words. Lots of ’em. How hard could it be?
Using words the best way you can came flooding back this week. First with the news that one of the fiercest sub-editors who ever sharpened a red pen, had passed away. His name was Michael Travis and he worked at The Canberra Times for longer than anyone else, except for that other man of many, many, many words, Jack Waterford.
Travis knew when you split an infinitive before you even knew you had. Turns out he died last year, but being the on-the-spot-newshound that I am, I only heard about it this week when some old CT folk posted on social media about having a few drinks in his memory. Michael Travis and social media: the mind doesn’t just boggle, it explodes.
I wrote a column back then, all about life in the country, and Travis told me, regularly, that it was pretty much rubbish. He said he hated sub-editing it. But he always did. Every Friday afternoon for its Sunday publication. He always changed bits in it and then told me he had a few days later. I hadn’t noticed. I’d already written it, why would I read such rubbish again?
Along with the column, I also wrote accompanying pars about quirky stuff that was going on in the bush. You know the sort of thing. Really hilarious comments about, at Christmas time, when people put inflatable Santa legs upside down in their RMBs. That’s not funny, Travis would tell me.
He was hard but fair. But what I liked best about him was his passion for language. It came out of his every paw (just checking to see if you’re still watching over us, Travis). The younger journalists infuriated him – he reckoned we couldn’t even spell our names – while the older ones drove him completely bonkers, “you should know better than to do that”.
Then, this week, the man of many, many, many words Jack Waterford, came to visit us at Region Media, invited to talk to the team about his life experience as a journalist, specifically as long-time editor of the CT. He’s been retired a while from day-to-day journalism but is still in demand as a writer and speaker, and it’s not hard to understand why. Again, his passion for the language, oozes out of his paws too, and even his pores. And he did what he was famous for: he’s never been known to give a talk without mentioning the size of his ASIO file(s). And yes, size does matter.
A life telling stories, mentoring others to tell a good yarn: he still has it.
To top it all off, I interviewed an artist from Majors Creek whose unique jewellery has been selected for exhibition in a top American gallery. No hard sell, no deals, no carry-on whatsoever. Her work simply spoke for her. Artist Zoe Brand was spotted by a famous gallery owner who was in a position to do a little something for her – showcase her work to the world. And what makes Zoe’s work so special, it’s all about the words. Pendants, not pedants, with words.