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(Christmas 2010)
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Christmas Newsletter 2010

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Peace on earth

Christmas 2010 - by Paul Cockburn

First I should inform you why my communication is awkward and clumsy in comparison with my usual linguistic flair...

From July ... Actually it was a month prior to July but as you will soon find out I must avoid typing what I obviously want to. It is not important which month anyway. I'll start again... Within thirty days prior to July I took my first foray into a book club at Horsham library. This was not my final visit to that discussion group. Far from it. Four occasions is my tally so far. Last month our topic was an unusual book incorporating lipograms of growing difficulty. I thought I should try to construct a similar body of writing for our annual Christmas mailing. So this is a lipogram. You could look up this word in a dictionary, or you might grasp its basic import from this hint: In forming my words I am not utilising as much notation as I could. I am avoiding a particular symbol. This is just about as plain as I can put it without spoiling my lipogram. (Work it out - can you spot which common symbol is missing?)

So what has our family got up to during two thousand and six (plus four)? Mad is still at Durham studying Physics, though now living out. A group of six (plus four) amigos inhabit two adjoining buildings. Mad has had to start cooking, taking turns on a rota. A particular difficulty is that Mad and an ally disdain any consumption of animals, choosing to stick with food such as quorn. Thinking of joining a band (taking up sax again), Mad was at an audition about a fortnight ago. I don't know if this is jazz music, or classical, or both. As long as Mad has fun, I don't mind.

Moving up to child two: Hannah now works as a hospital lab assistant in a town starting with a "K". (It's North of Northampton and sounds a bit as if it is to do with food-provision industry. Sorry if that's too cryptic. Look up NN16 *** on a map.) Laboratory work obviously suits our girl. It is only a bottom rung kind of job but with good opportunity for advancing upwards and aiming for a post which fits in with Hannah's original wish - to work in a hospital using biological skills to do fabulously brainy things with DNA and such stuff. As far as Susan and I can work out, our offspring is loving living away from Horsham - making contact with folk at Kings Church, going to a piano tutor, staying in accommodation of Hannah's own choosing (two-up, two-down, plus bathroom), and basically blossoming.

As for our son: Nat has a young lady, Dawn. As you know (or you would know if avidly consuming our annual communications was your constant habit), Nat is in a town starting with "M". (It's first bit is a coat you put on in a rainstorm. It's hard to pinpoint its location in a lipogram. A long way North of Birmingham. Not too far South of Stockport. Look up SK10 ***.) My main point is that this happy pair is planning to conjoin in matrimonial harmony in March. Hurrah! Jollity abounds! Information and photographs will no doubt follow for any of you who want full particulars of that joyous occasion.

Finally, what of my good lady and I? Not a lot to say. I'm into prog rock (again) including going to four smallish gigs. My old Dutch is into calligraphy (still) and dog-walking. A particular infamous caching activity is proving popular for us, with a high count of finds - mostly by woman and dog, though I do join in on my days off. Church ministry is good and fulfilling, if usually far too busy for my laid-back inclination. I'm taking part in our forthcoming panto in January. Both of us stay fit and avoid falling ill. Many mornings I jog round a tropical island (on my Wii-Fit).

And that's that. I'm glad to draw to a conclusion. All symbols from A to Z occur in my writing - all but that which is most common. Happy Christmas to all our kith and kin!

Cockburn newsletter supplemental:

If the above leaves you mystified, perhaps the following will make more sense.

In June I started attending a monthly book club at the library. This has led me to read several books which I wouldn't normally have known existed - some better than others. The most unusual was called "Ella Minnow Pea". I never got to discuss this because the meeting was cancelled due to snow. The book consisted of a series of letters between inhabitants of a fictitious island which venerated the author of the famous pangram "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog". One day the letter Z falls off the inscription on his statue and the council take this as a sign to banish the use of the letter Z in all written or spoken communication. This has a bigger effect than you might imagine. All books containing a Z are removed from the island. Later the Q also drops off and is similarly disallowed. As more letters disappear the inhabitants have to communicate in increasingly stilted fashion. Anyway, it was a strange book and I thought I'd have a go at something similar.

A lipogram is "a text that purposefully excludes a particular letter of the alphabet". Some have written entire novels in this form. I found one page challenging enough. Of course it would have been easier if I hadn't chosen E as the letter to exclude. Four out of six family members (including the dog) contain an E in their names. Kettering and Macclesfield cannot be mentioned (my hint was that the former sounded like catering). Lots of pronouns (he, she, her, me, we, they) are unavailable, as are past tenses ending in '-ed', not to mention the definite article. It's not just a matter of finding alternative words, one has to invent a whole new way of grammatical expression. Without this restriction I can now explain more fluently...

Madeleine is still at Trevelyan College in Durham. It's her second year studying Physics. She is living out with nine other friends. She has passed her audition for the college band, and it turns out it's a musical she's playing for. But I'm not going to change my original lipogram because I need the word 'jazz' to complete the usage of all other 25 letters.

Hannah is a lab assistant in Kettering hospital. She is on the bottom rung of the ladder which hopefully will lead to the post of biomedical scientist. But this gives her much more experience in the right field than her previous two jobs (the deli counter at Sainsburys and serving meals at a local boarding school). She seems to have settled very well into life away from home and has made some good friends at the 'Open Door' church, part of the New Frontiers movement (Kings Church is the name of the equivalent church here in Horsham which, by good fortune, I used by mistake when composing my lipogram). She has also started piano lessons again.

Nathanael's girlfriend Dawn is now his fiancee. He proposed by hiding an engagement ring inside a chocolate Easter egg which he opened, resealed by melting the join and re-wrapped. They are due to marry in March up in Macclesfield. He continues to work at AstraZeneca in the computing department. Dawn manages a pre-school. They seem very happy together.

I've started taking "Classic Rock presents Prog" (a bi-monthly magazine) and buying lots of mp3 files of obscure bands, making some good discoveries in the process - such as Beardfish and Unitopia. I've been to two concerts in Dorking by 'Prognosis' - a kind of tribute band playing music by Genesis, Pink Floyd, Camel etc., and this inspired me to travel to London to hear Tinyfish and to Kingston to hear The Tangent. Both very entertaining evenings, standing up in a dark low-ceilinged room being battered by painfully loud music. I've come to the conclusion that listening on my iPod allows a better appreciation of the music, but the live show is something of an experience. If I go again I'm taking earplugs though.

Sue has really got her teeth into geocaching. Having moved to Horsham there are whole new sets of caches to be found and she will often take Tessa on these local jaunts. On my days off we cache together in slightly more distant environs. She still enjoys calligraphy and has joined the North Downs Calligraphers.

And all the above took a fraction of the time it took to compose my annual Christmas letter. But just look at how many words include an E. No wonder it turned out to be a real challenge avoiding it.

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