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Paris Pernod parties…

Currently at the door of my local bookshop is a brilliant idea, Blind Date with a Book:

For £8 (c$10) a pop, you can choose from a selection of identically brown-paper-packaged mystery books, with the help of a few enticing descriptions. Half the fun is in detecting a book you know and love – such as the one that lies beneath ‘Expatriates, Spanish bullfights, Paris Pernod parties, Jealousies, Classic’. (I won’t spoil the experience by revealing the title, but it is indeed a classic.) The other half is in not having a clue what a book is – ‘Cosmic collision, Princess, Dynamite, Love and lust, Quirky’ anyone?

Whether it’s an old favourite or a new read – whichever book you choose, enjoy your date!

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A good story…

“All the best facts, figures and arguments in the world can’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story,” says Richard Powers, in his sylvan epic The Overstory.

So what counts as a good story?

For me, it’s a story about something that matters, well-told. Substance and song. A story that holds and rewards our attention, and changes us for the better along the way.

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Meaning, colour, and music…

In a Norwich charity shop not so long ago I picked up, for £2.99 (c$4), a copy of Herbert J. C. Grierson’s Rhetoric and English Composition. Published back in 1944, it is full of insights that still hold true. Insights such as this one, in the chapter on The Choice of Words: “To the poet and orator [words] are living things, the winged messengers of their thoughts and feelings, and like the birds they have three properties – body or meaning, colour, and music.”

Alongside their dictionary definition (their meaning), words also have colour “the associations which gather around a word by long usage”, and music – their melody and rhythm. Taking all three together, every word has the potential to make us think, and feel, and hear different things.

This is powerful stuff. In choosing the right words to tell our stories, we can play with all three properties – meaning and colour and music – to appeal to the head and the heart and the ears. So our stories not only convey clearly, but feel right and sound good, too.

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The story is mightier…

In these dark days, a ray of light from Yuval Noah Harari:

Nations are ultimately built on stories. Each passing day adds more stories that Ukrainians will tell not only in the dark days ahead, but in the decades and generations to come. The president who refused to flee the capital, telling the US that he needs ammunition, not a ride; the soldiers from Snake Island who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself”; the civilians who tried to stop Russian tanks by sitting in their path. This is the stuff nations are built from. In the long run, these stories count for more than tanks.”

In the end, the story is mightier than the sword.

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Small change; big difference…

A tasty reminder of the power of words comes courtesy of research carried out by the World Resources Institute (WRI) into the big difference just a small change on a restaurant menu can make to what we choose to order.

Researchers tested responses to different sustainability-themed messages on menus. Messages such as: “Each of us can make a positive difference to the planet. Swapping just one meat dish for a plant-based one saves greenhouse gas emissions that are equivalent to the energy used to charge your phone for two years. Your small change can make a big difference.” Diners who read this message chose a vegetarian dish 25% of the time – over twice the rate of diners who were not shown the message. This is good news because, as the WRI points out: “Food-production accounts for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, with animal-based foods contributing double the amount of emissions to plant-based foods. Shifting consumer demand away from animal-based foods toward more plant-based alternatives is critical for reducing food-related climate change impacts, as well as resource use and biodiversity loss.” Imagine the difference if everyone everywhere swapped their beef burger for a bean burrito.

Of course, it’s not just on menus that a few well chosen words can have a big positive impact. (And indeed, vice versa.) Something for us all to bear in mind as we tell our stories – select wisely to tell well.

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Pilipala, papillon…

Pilipala, papillon, farfalla, mariposa, babushka, borboleta, pulelehua, húdié – butterfly.

Welsh, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, Hawaiian, Chinese, English – lovable in any language.

Wherever in the world you are, here’s to a tip-top 2022 for one and all.