The Canadian Component of the Revisiting English Grammar Tour

The Bumper Sticker!
The Bumper Sticker!

The Revisiting English Grammar team were delighted to begin the tour in Winnipeg on January 4th.  In stark contrast to the ferocity of the coldness in the air (coming after such a ‘warm’ December, I heard), the warmth of the people we encountered was phenomenal.  The hospitality shown us was second to none (and the hospitality of my co-author, Rosemarie Finlay and her son David was even above that, as they took me in for those ten days and ensured I was pampered), and it was especially great to have so much time indoors (by necessity – it was about minus twenty degrees Celsius most of the time!) in order to discuss our plans to help people with English grammar.

The support team at St. Paul’s College were amazing and went above and beyond any notion of a call of duty.  Special mention must be made of Matt Semchyshyn for his tireless help in logistics and hospitality (I was well fed in the Belltower Cafe).  It was just wonderful to see the sights and new developments on the campus, including the spectacular stained glass window which Rosemarie created for the college and which commands the eye of the beholder, just opposite the Fr. Harold Drake Library.

Rorie Bruce handled our Public Relations during our tour.  We can’t thank him enough for all his efforts on our behalf.  Affable, diligent, efficient and willing to handle the driving (which elevated him to an even higher esteem in my ‘book’, such is my fear of wintry roads), he had arranged numerous appearances for us.

On Wednesday, January 7th, I appeared on Brandon’s CKLQ Radio.

The official R.E.G. Pens
The official R.E.G. Pens

Bill Turner – a friendly and able host – interviewed me, prompting several call-ins from listeners.  An hour later, I was speaking to Al Friesen (another friendly and able host, with a great sense of humour) on Golden West Radio, which comprises three stations that broadcast throughout southern Manitoba.  Again, this was a great interview – the questions and observations of both host and callers were intelligent and sharp; it was especially fun to reply to a question about what phrases annoy me the most in modern vernacular!

It was wonderful to read what The Winnipeg Free Press wrote about us later that day.  The writer clearly understood the scope of our cause and the video interview provided a great place to field our movement.  Here is a link to the article (N.B.: you will have to copy and paste the URL below into a new window’s browser and read it there, as the link is no longer directly active when clicked, for some reason!):

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/books/probable–clause-287613911.html

Thursday was our first television spot.  We arrived at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café that morning and were met by a great crew.  This spot was supposed to have been cast on Friday, but we heard that they couldn’t do it the next day.  Geoff Kirbyson was an interesting and friendly interviewer.  The video footage from that interview can be found at the top of the Free Press’s article in the link.  It is amusing, I hope, to note that I had to show quite a bit of restraint when asked about the ‘Hey youse’ part in that interview.  As a habit, I no longer correct people on bad grammar, although one very tempting time arose when someone put a powerful but easy expletive ahead of a noun, thus twisting the meaning to disastrous effect!  I smile, only because I know. Yet, that is the ‘price’ of so many people’s living in the vernacular.  Correcting people’s grammar, verbally, on a case-by-case basis, is akin to trying to claw an ambitiously deep hole in dry sand with your fingers: there is no real point.

I was allowed to explain our book and its raison d’etre in expansive terms and to highlight some popular misconceptions of why so many fear grammar, as well as why young people are not to blame for the dreadful state of its use today.

Friday was the busiest day; it started early.  The ever-dutiful Rorie collected me at 07:25 and we headed to the CTV News studio near where Eatons had been (I believe it is now the main arena … hmm).

As it turned out, we had to fill the 07:52 (just a little ahead of our 08:15) slot as the interviewee was stuck behind a train.  This was no problem.  Kris Laudien, CTV’s Morning Show host is a bright interviewer with a friendly and tremendous presence.  Although I had pretty much had to ‘hit the ground running’ due to the slot switch, I found his disarming style a real tonic.  His nature was such that he’s the sort of person one might feel one had known for years.  You can see just how ‘disarmed’ he made me feel in the following interview:

http://winnipeg.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=527163

10352930_684544364994970_57738346477601809_nIt was fantastic to watch that clip before lunch.  In the early afternoon, we had to prepare ourselves for two more radio interviews.  I write ‘prepare’, but I really mean that Revisiting English Grammar is the sort of book and movement that is not so much about memorisation or rehearsal before one speaks.

At 2:30, we arrived at the University of Manitoba and headed up to the fourth floor of the main UMSU building.  Michael Elves of UMFM Radio was waiting for us.  He struck me as, happily, exactly what I had been expecting for a university radio host.  We went into the booth and talked for a bit while we monitored the decibel levels, etc.

Once the ‘tapes’ started, it was straight down to business with the Revisiting English Grammar book, movement and how it stands to help everyone struggling with grammar, primarily (but not limited to) students.  I had a great time speaking with this erudite and sharp fellow.  He was ‘right there’ in regard to following what I was saying about Revisiting English Grammar, and his questions were astute and entertainingly thought provoking.  A sound link for that interview will be appearing shortly.

Rorie and I did not have much time to ‘hang about’ after that; we had to be at the University of Winnipeg – a few miles away – for just before four o’clock.  Arriving there (what a wonderful building – castle like!), we ascended some steel stairs to the floor that houses the radio station – CKUW.

Ron Robinson was our host.  I found him to be a fun and quirky individual.  Sporting a long, grey-whitish beard and longish hair, he seemed to be the consummate veteran of student radio.  It was an honour to personalise and sign his copy of Revisiting English Grammar before we went into the booth and he started the sound checks, etc.

He showed me an ancient book on English Grammar.  I think it was from 1940, and it was ‘exquisite torture’ (as I remember putting it) to skim through it.  I reaffirmed that our book was all about taking grammar’s image in a different direction.  After all, we had to ‘de-demonise’ it!  It was a particular pleasure to be asked to provide the station identification voice bit.  The sound clip for that interview will be uploaded later.

After this, Rorie and I headed over to McNally Robinson in Grant Park shopping mall.  A massive independent bookstore, McNally Robinson boasts a luxurious setting, replete with shelf after shelf holding all kinds of books.  There is a charming section for children upstairs and the restaurant below offers a splendid menu.

This was our venue for the book launch at 7 pm.  Rosemarie, Rorie and I went to check that our table was reserved for 5:30, just before our guests arrived.  McnallyRobinsonProfessor Peter St. John (the Ninth Earl of Orkney) and his good lady wife Barbara met us, and it was an honour and then some to catch up with the wonderful ‘wizard’ who had taught me political science some eighteen years previously, during a wonderful summer.

We enjoyed a sumptuous repast (the Earl and I choosing chicken pies after bowls of African peanut soup) and a good bottle of red appeared.  It was a fantastic time to catch up and a perfectly relaxing atmosphere.   Rosemarie and I could not have asked for any better a prelude to our book launch!

We saw our audience when we emerged from the restaurant to 6:45.  We had expected a good turnout, but that we had attracted 110 people gave us an added sense of vindication.  Our cause matters to people.

After the sound checks were conducted and the last guests seated themselves, Andrew – a pleasant young man in McNally Robinson’s employ – set the stage by introducing the Earl of Orkney, Professor Peter St. John.

The Earl’s speech found him in his element.  I especially liked the way he was able to chart the ‘downfall’ of students’ grasps of English grammar on a timeline.  Having taught at university since 1963, he had seen it all, declaring that students were starting to use ‘bad English’ in the late 1980s.   The Earl’s masterful touch of humour whilst he introduced us, the book, and the milieu that demanded the need for our book was perfect and delivered ingeniously.  Magisterial but magnificently down to earth, he was an ideal choice for introducing us.

Dr. Moti Shojania, Dean of Studies at St. Paul’s College, spoke on behalf of Rosemarie Finlay.  Here was another great orator, yet her speech was appropriately attuned to Rosemarie’s contributions to St. Paul’s College and for all the students she has helped in her 45-year career.  Highlighting Rosemarie’s great sense of compassion, Dean Shojania also addressed a key area in how the English language finds itself in 2015: that of the vernacular.

I was up next.  It was a veritable dream to be there at the podium.  It was all the more so to see so many friendly faces in the ‘sea’ of avid listeners before me.  My Powerpoint presentation was before me; yet, I found there to be an electricity in the air that night.  I was able to really let the book and the movement speak through me.

Principally, there were three aspects to our book which I needed to explicate.  Our book had to be:

1) A user manual (in keeping with my background as a technical author) – we had to devise a comprehensive guide to deliver fast aid to readers.

2) Entertaining – we had to inject some fun and life into what would otherwise be too flat and dry.

3) ‘Democratically malleable’ – we had to listen to the readers.  In two years of development, in which many volunteer students would read and critique the prototype, the work’s trajectory adjusted to reflect what the readership wanted.

From here, I had great fun moving along to address the ‘players’ in the ‘triangle’.  An understanding of that triangle’s components will give a better understanding behind the causes of bad grammar and bad English in 2015.  I explained how all too often it is young people who bear the brunt of the poking fingers and criticism.   Here, in this link, we have a nearly complete (missing about a minute of my closing comments due to camera malfunction) record of that evening:

The speeches delivered, it was time to meet those attendees who had braved the January Winnipeg cold (and on a Friday night, to boot) in order to hear us and to perhaps purchase signed and personalised copies of Revisiting English Grammar.

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Rosemarie (left) and I with a friend of ours and of Grammar’s (Laura Fouad).

We were delighted that everyone who approached our table seemed so positive.  It’s funny – ‘Grammar’ and ‘Friday Night’ are strange bedfellows, especially when one has to worry about the family chariot’s engine’s freezing up!  Yet, they came, they saw, they heard and they had much to say to us afterwards.  That was the most rewarding Friday night I’ve had!

Special mention must be attributed to John Toews (Events Coordinator at McNally Robinson) for his tireless efforts to ensure a superlatively marvellous book launch.  We are especially glad that we have made such an impact on McNally Robinson’s sales registers.  http://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/9781553833956/johnny-geddes/revisiting-english-grammar?blnBKM=1#.VMQSHP7F-_R

A little while ago, I made mention of the ‘whys’ behind our book.  Conducting a postmortem to establish exact cause was never a deep interest when we were beginning the first drafts of our book.  Of course, we were aware that bad grammar – seemingly aided and abetted by a dependence upon modern technology – needed to be counteracted and that students needed our help.

10678724_676003772515696_6953093449044487783_n
The cover of the working version (2012-2014).

We just knew that we had a mission, a revolutionary approach and the perfect tableau in which to conduct field tests in the same market for whom we were writing – the students!

It has never been a better time to be a student learning English than now.

The effect of our efforts have seen two weeks’ running in the way of topping the bestsellers’ list for non-fiction at McNally Robinsons in Winnipeg.  With a vibrant following in South Africa, and now in Canada, we look forward to showing other parts of the world how our book can help those who have trouble with grammar.

There are many grammar books ‘out there’.  Ours is a revolutionary one, not least because it had a sub-revolution going on, about which we knew nothing until recently.  We may have designed our work for ‘students at the University of Manitoba’; what we did not take ‘on board’ as fully as we, perhaps, could have at the time is that such a specific target was to really represent ‘people, everywhere, over the age of 12 who have trouble with English grammar and who want help’!

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