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Cultural Hatred

I do wish people would stop perpetuating myths about other cultures. I have just read another “A Muslim woman dressed in a Burkha (A black gown & face mask) was Standing with her shopping in a queue…” story on FaceBook that, when I researched it, found that the same story has been rehashed for ten years with slight tweaks to make it appropriate for a specific nation. I don’t blame the person who shared it – they have their particular political ideals and posts like that support their beliefs.

The world isn’t perfect. Every nationality, religion, and minority group has arseholes who will criticise, condemn, terrorise, etc. The worst ones are those who generate myths like this one. I criticise Americans all the time (sorry to my American friends), but I’m not vilified for it so why do we have to invent these stories to vilify other cultures that criticise us? Let’s face it, we (the noble and glorious British) invented the concentration camp, apartheid, the machine gun, the slave trade, and were responsible for the partitioning of Palestine and India and, thus, the subsequent deaths. We murdered probably 100,000 people (mostly innocent civilians and refugees) when we bombed Dresden for no other reason than we could. We condoned the murder of a similar number when the US dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and about 40,000 in Nagasaki not to mention the generations that have suffered and died as a result of mutations and cancer that they caused.

On the subject of religious oppression, the Christians invented the oppressions and subjugation of women and went to war against every other religion in the world (possible not the Buddhists) and actually passed a decree that certain other races could be classed as non-human and so could be slaughtered with impunity (specifically the Native American tribes).

So, yes, lets condemn all terrorists be they Muslim, Christian, or sodding Jedi but let us not continue to vilify and stir up hatred against whole cultures just because many of them are (often rightfully) critical of Britain (or the US) and their treatment of other nations.

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Are bedroom tax arrears real?

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Body Acceptance within the Intersex community

People should read this.

Body Acceptance within the Intersex community.

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Survivors Guide to Profit Share

Profits afloatI recently obtained a County Court Judgement against a director who decided it was acceptable to defraud his actors by some very creative book-keeping. Eventually he discovered that he had stolen from the wrong person and had to pay the price – well more than the price once the interest and court fees were added. See my blog “Cautionary Tale of Profit Share.”

Sadly, young and less experienced actors are hungry for work and so directors like Sean Fields (not his real name) continue to get away with these practices. After all, earning what amounts to less than half of the national minimum wage is better than earning nothing.

Thankfully, directors and produces like this are few and far between. Still, following that blog, I thought it a good idea to post a guide for actors so that they may not be treated the same way.

For the following guidance, I will use the term “director” when referring to whoever calculates the finances or whoever is in charge of the company; this should simplify the txt somewhat.

What is profit share?

Quite simply, “profit share” is, as it says, a scheme that allows for the whole cast and crew of a production to earn an equal or proportional share of the profits. The better ones will ensure that those with smaller roles take on extra responsibilities that will justify them receiving the same as the main cast members; another, less fair but still acceptable, method is to make complex calculations based on stage time etc.

Either way, you need to know before you agree.

In the current climate where the arts are underfunded and there is no guarantee of audiences, profit share has become a common practice. This way the producer, the director or company, while still being responsible for underwriting the expenses, will share the risk with the cast and crew so there is no guarantee for anyone of making any decent money. However, the up side is that the cast can, if the tour goes well, make a lot more than they would if they had a contracted rate.

The Contract

This is a tricky one. Many profit share arrangements are made on a handshake. This is fine in many respects. Remember that, in British law (and I think US law – please correct me if I’m wrong) a verbal contract is just as valid as a written one. A word of caution is necessary, however; make certain that all the cast members discuss the agreement together with the producer or director (or whoever will be responsible for the payments) so that there are witnesses and everything is out in the open.

Watch out for inconsistencies among the cast. I know of a project, involving the same director, in which one cast member was on a contracted rate while the others were on a profit share! The contract contained a confidentiality clause, meaning that the cast member was not allowed to disclose the details of her contract to anyone else. She ignored this and, eventually, the director agreed to give everyone involved the same contract.

So, make sure that all the cast members have made the same agreement. If one will not discuss this, then hear the alarm bells.

Another trick to use is this: make notes during the meeting; type up the notes and email them to the director and cast opening with something like “following our meeting on [date], I made the following notes. Can you please confirm that I have correctly recorded the details”.  Make sure you mark your email to receive a delivery receipt and a read receipt.

Licences

Unless the author of the play has been deceased by more than seventy years, then the company must have a licence (or permission if a new writer) for each performance. Licences vary from amateur performances to lavish, national tours; all you need to ask is, has the director/company got a licence/permission to perform.

Counting the Costs and Income.

Expenses

From the outset, you should know what the likely costs will be. There will be variable costs, such as fuel, toll fares, refreshments (if provided as a company). There will be fixed costs such as costume hire, rehearsal space, advertising, printing, theatre hire (unless they take a percentage). Make sure you ask what these are likely to be.

If the company has its own building, find out if they are charging for rehearsal space. The director mentioned had his own theatre school and charged us for the rehearsal space. This amounted to about £450 that we didn’t expect.

Theatres

You will know what theatres you are going to. Look them up on the Internet. Find out how many seats there are. What they charge for each level of audience member (adult, child, disabled, carer, group bookings) should be on the webpage. You can make a rough estimate of potential revenue from that. Don’t be optimistic – take the average price and multiply it by half the number of seats; this way, should it be a sell out, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and you won’t be as disappointed if it falls short.

Don’t forget that the theatre will want its cut. If it hasn’t charged a flat fee, it will take a percentage of the box office takings – usually between twenty and thirty percent.

Don’t be afraid to ask the box office when you get to the theatre for a breakdown of bookings. Some theatre audiences are renowned for just turning up and paying on the night, however; in this case you can ask someone in your crew to estimate the number of attendees or, for smaller venues, you’ll be able to ask the box office later.

Never be afraid to ask a theatre what the arrangement is between them and the company. Many of them will tell you straight; the worst they can do is refuse on grounds of confidentiality.

Theatre in Education

More and more schools are opting to have theatre companies bring plays to their halls. It is less trouble than arranging a trip to the theatre and could be cheaper. It  can also be a lucrative venture for a theatre company.

What is not appreciated by a lot of people is that schools are publicly funded bodies and, as such, are subject to the terms of the Freedom of Information act. This means that they must tell you exactly how much they are paying the company. So, if you ask and they don’t tell you, send a letter or email to the head and ask for the information under the terms of the act.

Totalling it Up

Eventually you will have come to the end of the run and it’s time to get paid.

Hold on. It’s not always that simple. Theatres are not always in a hurry to part with their money and schools certainly won’t be. It is not unheard of for a school to take sixty days from issue of invoice (although not so common). Nor will the director or company be in a massive hurry to let all the cash go from their account.

While revenue would have trickled in after the first month of the tour, the company will not think it unreasonable to hold back until all of the venues have paid in full. This is likely to be about four weeks after the end of the tour. However, you may want to do your calculations and ask for a part of it. Your wish may or may not be granted.

Sooner or later you will be sent the profits breakdown from the director or producer. Now’s the time to compare your detailed calculations with the official version. There will be a discrepancy since no-one is perfect; you may have miscalculated or not taken into account all of the costs. Time to make a decision. If the difference is only a few percent, you will need to weigh up the pros and cons of challenging the figures; for such a small amount, it probably isn’t worth bothering. However, if the official version is getting on for twenty percent or more, time to ask for a detailed breakdown.

Now, in my case (see previous blog) the company director refused to discuss details. That sounded an immediate alarm bell and told me that this was no minor error and the director was hiding something. What he was hiding were two incidents of only one performance accounted for out of two, most of the revenues being under stated, a theatre hire charge that seemed to appear twice plus an additional member of the company that was never mentioned!

If the director refuses to reveal the details, then it is time to gather your evidence. Ask every venue for a complete breakdown of what was paid. Some will comply immediately, others may refuse initially and may need coaxing, others will just refuse full stop. The schools must tell you and even the theatres that will not give you the full details will provide enough information for you to do fairly accurate calculations. The rule is, always be polite and respectful.

Having gathered your evidence and made the calculation, politely contact the director and tell them of your findings and that, failing their evidence to the contrary, this is the figure that you will be invoicing for. If there is an agreement all well and dandy. If no agreement and no evidence to support their calculations then send an invoice to correspond with your calculations stating that you will expect an amount corresponding to their calculations immediately and the rest after seven/fourteen/twenty-eight days (you decide what is reasonable).

A Last Resort.

It is possible that the director will pay you the amount in full. It is equally possible that they will not. The ultimate resource you have to get your money is the court system. While this may seem like a frightenng prospect, it is quite a simple process, it costs only £35 and is fully explained on https://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk, where you can also register your claim (obviously, this is for the UK; presumably other countries will have similar processes).

In a later blog, I may describe the court process. However, I think I’ve kept you long enough. See you in the next blog.

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Cautionary Tale of Profit Share

Not about writing but about my other passion – acting.

Distorted MoneyI have just won a court judgement against a director for non payment of profit share. In some ways I feel cheated because it was largely a default  judgement and in lots of ways I am sad that it ever got that far. Let me tell you the story so that others may know how to avoid this happening to them.

A friend of mine, let us call him Sean Fields, approached me, around eighteen months ago, about taking a good role in a well know stageplay. He ran a theatre company and a stage school and I had known him for about a year. I was thrilled to be asked and, after reading the part, loved the character – self made, control freak, pompous ass (the complete opposite of me).

Let me give you a little bit about Sean’s background. He is a committed Christian (this is important as I’m sure his actions go against many Christian beliefs and values). Sean has been in the industry for decades and has acted, directed and taught the craft all around the UK. He has established theatre schools for young people and has given many a young actor their first bunk up the ladder of performing arts.

Now, before anyone starts to make wild guesses as to who this is, he is not a well known director but has earned a bit of a reputation (not necessarily a good one) in the North West of England. I am choosing not to use his real name because I believe in fair play and the capacity for change in people. I am also not naming the stage play for two reasons – one reason is that it may identify the director and the other reason will become apparent.

Initially, I thought this was a contracted and paid role; however, I later found out that it was a profit share scheme, which I was uncertain about but I wanted to take on the role.

Sean had a little trouble casting all the roles (it is a seven character play) and I helped him making some suggestions and introducing him to some people. I now realise why he experienced difficulty.

Eventually we had a full cast and then came the first cast meeting and reading. At this meeting, the profit share was discussed; there were eight of us, including Sean, and we already had about twenty performances booked, including about seven schools. So, while none of us were going to be rich on the back of this, if all went according to plan we would probably get well over a thousand pounds after necessary expenses were taken out.

Over the course of the next ten days, the eight of us had an intense rehearsal schedule. Many of us were nearly off-script by the first rehearsal. Each day, a section of the script was blocked out. I realise now, that alarm bells should have been ringing on the second day when Sean berated us for not knowing our positions from the previous day. He didn’t know because this director doesn’t take notes – he expects the actors to take their own blocking notes!

After seven days, it was time to put the whole thing together for the first time. Now, experienced actors will know that the first time the whole play is run in rehearsal from beginning to end it is crap! There’s no other word for it. It is the time when everyone forgets everything they have learned – from lines to exactly how to drink a glass of port!

Sean had a tantrum! This is the only way to describe it – a tantrum. With three days to go to the opening performance at a sold out venue (yes, he allowed less than two weeks to rehearse), the director had a tantrum and stormed out, thus wasting the rest of the day’s rehearsal. How can a company of actors come back from that and carry on rehearsing on their own.

After about four hours, Sean returned. He had postponed the opening night! When we eventually returned to the theatre, it was about half capacity.

The next day, he was in a much better mood. Rehearsal went well. When we had a break, half way through, he went and sat in his office (he had a tendency to do that a lot). We resumed the rehearsals with the AD (who was also a cast member) and all went smoothly. When Sean eventually returned, he told us all to grab a cup of tea and bring it to the table.

While Sean was in his office, he’d received a phone call. With two days to our new opening night (another sell out) a major, international production company had been in touch and told him that he hadn’t got a licence to perform the play, that they owned the copyright and they were not going to allow him to go ahead!

More alarm bells that I didn’t hear.

Without going into too much detail, we went ahead anyway with some changes. Just one of the theatres pulled the plug but the others decided that they could not promote the production as they would otherwise and would have to rely on regular audiences finding out for themselves what was on. The schools were not an issue since they were closed performances with an educational element.

This was not our only set back. We suffered from motorway holdups, causing us to arrive over an hour late to one school; there were vehicle breakdowns; there was an accident on the motorway involving two of the cast, all the props and the company vehicle (more about that later) – resulting in the rest of the cast quickly devising a drama workshop in which we acted out crucial scenes with a teacher reading in and discussing the issues.

At each of the theatres the cast did one of two things – we counted heads in the audience and/or asked the box office about the sales and ticket prices.

At the end of the tour I calculated the approximate revenue based on the theatre sales and the number of school performances, which were fixed charge. I calculated a total income for the tour, taking into account the theatre charges or percentage split, at nearly nine thousand pounds. After deducting necessary expenses, we would get about eight hundred pounds each. A far cry from the original estimate but better than nothing.

We eagerly awaited Sean’s final calculations, which were delayed by the some of the theatres not being as efficient as they might have been. In the meantime, Sean sent an email to all the cast suggesting that we might like to pay for the damage to his car out of the profits; you might be able to imagine our response. Alarm bell three!

Finally the breakdown arrived with a request to supply our bank details for payment. Each of us would receive three-hundred-and-five pounds! Less than half of my calculations.

How did he arrive at his figure, which was so wildly different to ours?

Firstly, there was the revenue. Sean’s figure for the total revenue from the venues came to less than seven thousand pounds. After checking, every figure from the theatres was low; some were shown as less than half of my calculation. The schools revenue was just shown as one sum that was seven hundred pounds lower than mine.

Next came expenses. A “venue hire” charge was shown for one theatre, while the revenue from that theatre had already taken it into account; There was a charge of nearly five hundred pounds for the use of Sean’s own building (shown as “running costs”); then he managed to deduct 23% “tax” from the total revenue.

The real shocker was the number of shares. Suddenly, we seem to have had a ninth member of the company – Sean’s business and life partner. At no time were we ever informed that she was to get an equal share; she was employed by the theatre company and so, her costs would have come under the room hire, etc.

My response was to send an email querying all the figures and asking for a detailed breakdown of the revenues. This he refused to do. He claimed that there were confidentiality issues and that he was not prepared to discuss the detailed accounts. When I pointed out that profit share without transparency was unheard of, he said he would not discuss this any further, we had our figure and that was the end of it. I also pointed out that we were self employed and that he did not have the authority to deduct tax since he was asking us to supply an invoice.

Because this was near Christmas, some of the cast accepted his figures so that they could get some money before the holidays. Some of us did not.

My next step was to contact the venues. Since the schools were public bodies they had to provide the information under the Freedom of Information Act. Some of the theatres were not so obliging but supplied enough information to allow me to make proper calculations.

I finally sent Sean and invoice five months after the end of the tour. He was not happy (I knew people that were working with him who described his behaviour on receiving this). He ignored the invoice and covering letter. The remaining few of us had been paid the amount that he had calculated without us requesting it.

Eventually, I began court proceedings against Sean. This is made very easy these days as you can do it online at a cost of just thirty-five pounds.  He responded to the application with a draft defence that pretty well threatened to counter claim against  me for loss of earnings as it had been a result of my “inability to meet deadlines during rehearsals”  (remember the tantrum I mentioned and the licence mess?) that had caused us to postpone and cancel performances. He suggested that the rest of the cast agreed with him. Did he not think that we are still in contact?

I sent detailed particulars of claim back to the court and received an email from Sean a couple of weeks later. In this, he suggested that, since we would both want to settle the matter amicably, he was prepared to offer fifty percent of my claim; this would avoid the case being protracted due to conclusive evidence having to be gathered. He also reiterated his threat of a counter claim.

My response to his email was to state that I could accept no less than the full amount of the claim since I already had all the evidence in my possession and was more than willing to share it with him should the matter go to court. I also stated that, since his “counter claim” had nothing to do with my claim, I would not waste time discussing it except to ask him do desist from these unfounded and potentially libellous remarks.

He offered no detailed defence and, a couple of weeks later; I applied to have judgement entered in my favour; this was granted. After a further email to Sean, I eventually received my money plus court costs and interest.

The worst thing about this whole case was that I considered Sean a friend. The whole cast considered him as a friend and he stole from his friends. He might not see it as stealing but that is what bit was.

Another sad thing is that he is a good (albeit a little volatile) director. We all liked his vision and his interpretations of the script. It is just a shame that he can no longer be trusted. I have since discovered that he is earning a reputation for defrauding his cast out of money owed, although this is unsubstantiated by firsthand accounts.

While I have not, and will not, publish his name in the public arena that is the internet, I am more than willing to tell anyone privately via a PM on Facebook or a DM on Twitter (follow me, @ message me and I will DM back) so that you may be as informed as possible if you ever encounter him on a professional level.

In another blog, I shall tell you how to make sure that you don’t get caught out by profit share scams.

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Dichotomy of Remembrance.

PoppiesToday is remembrance Sunday. It is one of the rare occasions when the closest Sunday to the eleventh day of the eleventh month is actually the eleventh day of the eleventh month. As always, my thoughts have wandering around war and death.

I have always been anti-war. In fact I have always been anti-violence of any sort. I was born a pacifist. From my earliest childhood memories watching television with my parents I have baulked at violence. Those early black and white westerns, which showed no bloodshed at all, still made me feel sick when one of the characters was shot dead. So, my being a teenager in the flower-power era of the late sixties was not the reason for my ever-so-hippy beliefs that violence is wrong.

This is why I always believed that I did not like wearing poppies. It reminded me of warfare and the wasted lives on the battlefields of Europe during two world wars, the innocent civilian lives that have been taken during the atrocities committed by all sides, and the hatred that is perpetuated throughout the world. But I always felt that there was something else. Today I realised what the something else was.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to disrespect those who have died during these wars nor their families. There have always suffered from this dichotomy. I used to wear a white poppy so that I could be seen to by paying my respects to those who have given up their lives for one lie or another. But even that was considered disrespectful by some. People, and many prominent politicians, derided the white-poppy-wearers, being ignorant of the true origins of the emblem.

The white poppy was first sold by the Co-operative Women’s Guild in 1933 by women who had lost husbands, fathers, brothers and sons in the First World War. It was a challenge to the continuing drive to war. The Peace Pledge Union adopted the white poppy a year later and began widespread distribution.

For a while I wore both the red and the white poppy; the red because those who fell or were maimed deserve to be remembered; the white to remind people that we should strive for peaceful solutions to conflicts.

The white also symbolises those forgotten heroes of all the conflicts; those conscientious objectors who were imprisoned, shot or ostracised because they were courageous enough to stand up for their beliefs in peace – for their determination never to take the life of another; those who were summarily executed as cowards for no worse crime than suffering, what we now know as, PTSD; those untrained boys of fourteen and fifteen who lied about their age so they could join up because they believed the lies they were told; and the families left destitute because fathers never returned.

Today, however, I realised why I felt that wearing a red poppy is so wrong; why Remembrance Day is so wrong.

Every year we see the same thing on TV. A display of our military’s finest at the Royal Albert Hall replaces the usual BBC schedule. American and British military units display finely honed skills with weaponry and musical instruments. Sunday morning services are attended by a procession of bands, army cadets, navy cadets and all manner of military prowess. The parade will march to the local Cenotaph where poppy-wreaths are laid in “remembrance.”

I remember as a teenager, in both the scouts and the St John Ambulance Brigade, joining in such parades. However, remembrance was far from my mind. I didn’t attend the parade because millions of people have died in wars. I attended them because I thought I looked smart in my uniforms and was proud of what I did.

What is today? Today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month we stand in a minute’s silence. But why today?  November the eleventh nineteen eighteen was the day hostilities ended in WW1. To put it another way, it’s the anniversary of Britain and the allied troops winning the First World War!

On 1st July 1916, at the Battle of the Somme, sixty thousand British Soldiers died. By 18th November, over a million had lost their lives. The allied troops gained just six miles of territory during that time!

At Passchendaele, between 31st July and 30th November 1917, nearly four-hundred thousand British Soldiers and about the same number of German soldiers lost their lives for control of the town, which was completely destroyed.

During the first week of May 1941, four thousand Merseyside civilians were killed during a sustained period of German bombing – this was later referred to the May Blitz.

Between 13th and 15th February 1945, twenty-five thousand people (mostly civilians) died in Dresden as a result of the atrocity (some may say war crime) that was named the bombing of Dresden.

Somewhere between sixty-six thousand and one-hundred-and-forty thousand civilians and military personnel were killed as a result of the atom bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on 6th August 1945.

So, I don’t need to wear a red poppy to remember those who died during the various wars. I don’t need a pompous display of military skills to remind me that that tens of millions of people died during two world wars. I already remember them. I feel for them. I feel for their families – the husbandless wife, the fatherless child, the childless mother. I mourn for them all.

Of all the possible dates that could be selected to remember those who died as a result of war, the day Britain and allied troops won WW1 was chosen. That is what is wrong with remembrance day and the poppy.

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Irritating Incorrect Usage

There are a few things that annoy me about some writers and, in particular,  many journalists.  These are same things that annoy me about the anonymous writers of marketing materials and signs. These same things annoy me even more when they come from the pen/keyboards of those who are trying to educate us.

But, one of those things that annoy me most is the incorrect use of words. Even more does it annoy me when the culprit resorts to using a word that they think will make them seem educated when it actually demonstrates the opposite.

The Which/That Argument

Take, for example, the use of the word “which” to introduce a restrictive clause.

For those who don’t know, a “restrictive clause is one that qualifies the subject of the previous clause and is absolutely essential to convert the correct information.  Let us use an example:

In a piece of writing, you want to describe a walk down a particular road. Of of all the roads available, you walked down the road with fresh tarmac. So the main clause might be

I walked down the road.

The sub clause might be:

had fresh tarmac.

This sub clause is essential to the description, otherwise the reader might think you walked down one of the other roads. The correct linking word would be “that” because it is a restrictive clause. The whole sentence becomes:

I walked down the road that had fresh tarmac.

We are in no doubt about which road you walked down.

However,  if there was only one possible road so that we can be in no doubt, then it is a non-restrictive clause. This means that the subordinate clause adds further information and is not essential to the context of the story. In which case, the correct word is “which” so the sentence becomes:

 I walked down the road, which had fresh tarmac.

See? The sub-clause can be removed and the story still makes sense.

So the general rule is, if the sub clause can be removed without detracting from the details, then we use “which” and it is always preceded by a comma.  If it is absolutely essential and cannot be removed then the word is “that” and there is no comma.

Unfortunately many people who should  know better use the wrong word, generally thinking that “which” sounds more educated. It doesn’t. The words do not mean the same thing and are not interchangeable.

Comprised

I have always loved this word. I don’t know why but I do. So do many other people. The difference between me and most of the other people that love the word is that I know how to use it, most do not. (notice I used that rather than which)

Now, I can easily forgive the layman for the incorrect use of this word. However, journalists and (especially) estate agents who bastardise this wonderful word should be taken out and shot. And when it used incorrectly on the web-pages of a university English department then someone should be hung-drawn-and-quartered!

Let me explain:  Comprise means consist-of, contain, made-up-of, consist-of. So the correct usage would be, for example:

the ground floor comprises two reception rooms and a kitchen-diner.

See. It should never be “comprises of.” Even just writing it as an example makes me feel like vomiting.

I spend a lot of time looking at estate agents websites. Almost without exception they will use “comprises of” in their descriptions.

I have seen the incorrect use of this word in magazine articles, newspapers, and marketing material. I have heard news readers use it and MPs. I have even seen this bastardisation on the websites of university English departments – yes, more than one but I won’t say which.

This is the perfect example of a word people use because they think it sounds educated but they have no idea what it actually means.

Less Than and Fewer Than

How many times have you seen a sign over a supermarket checkout that says:

        10 items or less?

(notice I used “that” and not “which”)

I have only ever seen one supermarket get this right and yet it is an official sign that is part of their overall marketing strategies.

You may be forgiven for asking what is wrong with it, unless you are a sign-writer or journalist, in which case you should be shot immediately. The correct form should is:

10 items or fewer.

Why? Quite simply because “item” is a digital term and “less” is an analogue term. An explanation?

Analogue quantities are infinitely variable like time, weight, distance. Digital quantities can be counted by number such as balls, cups, books, items.

So, I may be able to work fewer hours but I will have less time to complete the tasks.

So, you now have my permission to take a permanent marker to the supermarket and cross out the word “less” on these signs, replacing it with “fewer.” Tell them a grammar-nazi told you that you could.

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