I before E except after C… and 66 other exceptions

A few years ago I looked up all the words that don’t conform to the I before E except after C rule of English spelling. I found more words than I had expected. I ended up writing a short tale containing 66 unique exceptions to the rule:

Feisty old Keith lives in the sovereign state of Brunei and is heir to the reign of the sheik. He’s a foreign species in a society of nescient financiers. With sleight of hand, in a heinous heist at the hacienda of the Reich, Keith seized a freight of eight buddleias. His forfeit was to either guess the height of a gneiss statue of a deity or to whistle a leitmotiv; he deigned to do neither, feigning injury to be pardoned.

Keith deifies heifers and feeds them seitan when they are deficient in protein. This he does conscientiously, reining in the dose if he suspects a surfeit may induce seizure. In such a case he would inject codeine into their veins.

After noticing seiches on the lake, Keith was prescient enough to efficiently conduct a scientific seismic survey of the weir before fishing with his seine net.

In his leisure time Keith relaxes among teil trees, veiled in his beige eider-down peignoir while proficiently spinning a dreidel, sipping from a seidel of beer.

Heigh-ho, that’s sufficient weight to the tale of weird Keith’s conscience. Don’t even start me on his neighbour Deirdre, an expert on ancient glaciers!

The end.

I found even more exceptions to the rule, but I couldn’t figure out how to fit them into my (otherwise perfectly plausible and coherent) story. The words I left out are: cepheid, deicide, deictic, teiidae, cleidoic, gleization, greige and greisen.

Apparently, since I wrote my daft little tale, the I before E rule has been dropped from the national curriculum.

So, what can we learn from Keith’s story? Sometimes rules can be pretty misleading, counterproductive or redundant. Don’t simply accept every rule you are told. I’m not suggesting complete anarchy, but ask a few questions such as:

Continue reading I before E except after C… and 66 other exceptions


Fox Glacier – I didn’t realise how lucky I was

Exactly three years ago, on 18 February 2012, I walked on Fox Glacier. It was one of the most amazing days of my life, and I felt lucky to have had that experience.

I didn’t realise quite how lucky I was though. I wouldn’t be able to walk on Fox Glacier today. Tourist walks have been suspended because the glacier has retreated so far.

As you can probably imagine, I took quite a lot of photos on that memorable day with my mum and H. Here are a few of them:

On Fox Glacier

Jill and Bia in ice tunnel on Fox Gacier

Loose rocks on top of Fox Glacier

Large hole on Fox Glacier

Metamorphic rock at bottom of Fox Glacier

Jill descending Fox Glacier

You can see the rest of my Fox Glacier photos on Flickr.

Ypres and the First World War

I was in western Belgium in August 2014. What I saw and learnt about the First World War while I was there has stayed with me.

I was in Belgium because I was playing at the Dranouter Festival with Wilful Missing. The rolling green landscape that surrounded the festival site was a very pleasant setting indeed. However, I kept thinking back 100 years to the war that was about to begin, and that would turn fields like these into appalling battlefields.

The day after we played at the festival we had a trip into Ypres. That was a day I will never forget. The festival staff were kind enough to give us a driver called Patriek, who turned out to be a thoroughly nice chap. On the way to Ypres we stopped at two Commonwealth cemeteries. There are over 100 of these cemeteries in the area. The first cemetery we visited, Locre No. 10, had the following inscription at the entrance:

The land on which this cemetery stands is the free gift of the Belgian people for the perpetual resting place of those of the Allied armies who fell in the war of 1914-1918 and are honoured here.

Not everyone buried in cemeteries such as Locre No. 10 had been successfully identified, such as the “five soldiers of the Great War” buried beneath the gravestone in this photo:

Five soldiers of the Great War at Locre No. 10 Cemetery
Continue reading Ypres and the First World War