Before I became a journalist, but when I knew that was going to be my line, Alistair Cooke wrote the foreword of a Bedside Guardian, a collection of the previous year’s reports and comments in The Guardian as seen by the compiler as worthy of being put between hard covers.
Cooke mentioned, among other things, that a budding journalist or any other kind of writer, should build up a collection of clippings from newspapers and magazines that would be his future reference library.
I immediately went out and bought a hard cardboard box with a dozen large folders and started to fill them with information which I thought would be of possible use for future articles.
The contents of that box didn’t stop growing and today hundreds of folders occupy eight one-metre wide shelves of a bookcase just over seven feet high. During the virus confinement months I started to go through the files, thinking I’d be able to dump many of them to make way for books, but there wasn’t a great deal I wanted to throw away.
Some times these clippings provide information I wasn’t looking for — as last week when I turned over a news report that did interest me and read that Tim Robbins had separated from his long-term partner, actress Susan Sarandon.
The multi-talented Robbins, Oscar-winning actor, singer, scriptwriter, film director and songwriter, had admitted on Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 in 2010 that his split with Sarandon, mother of his two children, was partly due to a ‘midlife crisis’.
This term was coined in 1965 by Elliott Jacques, a Canadian psychologist who taught at London’s Brunel University.
While studying the working methods of artists in different fields, Jacques observed that geniuses like Dickens, Beethoven and Gauguin had periods of crippling self-doubt that led to domestic disasters — and then a flourishing new life that sometimes went in a completely different direction.
In a paper called Death and the Midlife Crisis, Jacques defined the new term as ‘the adult encounter with the conception of a life to be lived in the setting of an approaching personal death.’
An integral part of the psychologist’s original idea of the ‘midlife crisis’ was that the artist soon experienced a surge of new creative ideas.
When Dickens had a ‘midlife crisis’ he left his wife and 10 children and lived with an 18-year-old actress — and wrote A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, two of his greatest novels.
Gauguin gave up his job in a Paris bank, abandoned his wife and family, and went to Tahiti — where he produced some of the world’s great paintings.
Beethoven’s ‘midlife crisis’ saw him go into a suicidal phase but he beat it and went on to extend the form and scope of the symphony in a revolutionary way.
The 2010 clipping said Robbins’s ‘midlife crisis’ started after plans for a film collapsed. His most immediate 2010 work projects included his first album of songs. At one stage, he was thinking of calling it The Middle Crisis Album.
A ‘midlife crisis’ can hit men at any time from around 40 to the mid-50s. At that time Robbins was 51 and 12 years younger than Sarandon.
When Harrison Ford was 60 he left his wife of 20 years, started to wear an earring and dated actress Calista Flockhart, 22 years his junior. They later married.
A friend came across the term ‘the great vowel shift’ and from the text he could only glean that it had something to do with the English language. But what?
Around 1450, the pronunciation of the English language underwent a serious change that led to the lengthening of many vowel sounds. The verb ‘make’, for instance, used to be pronounced more like ‘mark’ and ‘mouse’ sounded like ‘moose’.
How do we know this? Mainly from the spelling of words in poetry. When ‘mouse’ appeared in a line of verse, it only made rhyming sense if the pronunciation was ‘moose’. The term ‘great vowel shift’ was coined by the Danish linguist Otto Jesperson (1860-1943). The reason for this shift is not known for certain, but may have been brought about by increased emigration to the south of England after the Black Death.
Why were American soldiers called GIs? The common explanation is that the letters mean Government Issue, a term that was applied to equipment for US troops during the Second World War. But it’s a little more complex than that.
What happened was that US Army quartermaster clerks used to save time by listing items such as garbage bins as GI…by which they meant ‘galvanised iron’.
But those who didn’t work with the quartermaster clerks thought GI was an official abbreviation for Government Issue. So they started to apply GI to all supplies at Army bases — including the soldiers, military regulations and customs. And the term stuck forever more.
But GI has pretty much gone out of popular use and it’s been donkey’s years since I’ve actually heard anyone say it. About the only time I see it these days is in the Bulletin crossword puzzle. The answer to the clue ‘USO attendees’ is…GIs.