Saturday, February 13, 2010

More writing tips of yesteryear

It's time to return to a classic text I introduced on WARTE last year: Ronald Pelham's How shall I word it? The self-help book, published in 1949, is designed to help the reader compose appropriate letters for any occasion. And I mean any occasion.

Let's say, for instance, that you were in the process of forming the Middle Maxton Cricket Club and needed a local gent to serve as your first President. Pelham believes that obsequious flattery is the best strategy.

'I know you are keen on the game and, before calling a meeting of all interested, I wondered whether you would allow your name to go forward as prospective President. There is no more enthusiastic cricketer in the district that your good self, while as for prowess on the Green - well, I for one shall never forget that sparkling century of yours last season in the Charity Match when you came to the rescue after we had lost seven men for ten runs...'

Hell, if I received a letter like this, I'd allow my own name to go forward. Never mind that I have only the shakiest grasp of the rules and would rather watch paint dry than roll up at The Oval.

Ever mindful that people get themselves into all kinds of scrapes, the author extends his advice beyond the world of amateur sport. On Page 70 and 71, he tackles that tricky situation when you've been summoned to appear in court for a driving offence, but your father is dying and not expected to last the week. The unfortunate scenario gives you reason to excuse yourself from a personal appearance before the beak, but Pelham believes that you also have to defend the case in writing.

'...I plead that the circumstances made it impossible for me to see the lights. I was in a stream of traffic, on the right of a lorry loaded high with goods. As I moved slowly forward beside it, the lights must have changed to red.'

Would such a letter cut any ice, do you think? Possibly. But only if you happened to have a dying father and had recently been nicked for jumping lights which had been obscured by a heavily-laden lorry.

'After twelve years of driving I have a clean licence and therefore ask for leniency.'

Next time on WARTE: Mr Pelham's suggestions for tackling a noisy neighbour who's playing a radio too loud, while you're working nights.

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