To the Heroes

There are howls of pain all around me: on social media, in the news, on whatsApp.

“I couldn’t be at the funeral”

“I wasn’t there when she died”

“We said our goodbyes over an iPad”

“I had to rely on strangers to make sure the kids had food”

“I couldn’t sit with my son during his chemotherapy.”

“We took care of our six month old while we were both ill and it was terrifying”

“I was scared and alone.”

“I am scared and alone.”

For a while, the fear and the grief were made just a fraction more bearable because you were sure that you were doing the right thing. In overriding every human instinct to run to those you love, you were putting the lives of others above your own very real need for solace, for care, for safety.

Now that outpouring of grief and fear is shot through with a bright, barbed threads of self recrimination and self doubt. Pain upon pain. Guilt upon grief. Anger upon fear.

But you did the right thing. You are doing the right thing. Look at this curve:

The graph shows a peak mortality figure of around 1,200 deaths per day in early April, before a slow decline to a current rate of around 300 deaths per day
Graph of the daily deaths in hopsital due to Covid 19 from

Before the effects of lockdown came into play, there were over 1,000 deaths in a single a day in hospitals alone. Maybe your loss is recorded in this awful chart. Maybe it isn’t, as this figure ignores everyone who died of Covid19 in care homes or at home and who were – shamefully – not recorded by the government as casualties of their public health failure.

But had you not made the sacrifice you made, by staying apart and slowing the spread, that rate would have continued to grow exponentially. For every extra week of undistanced behaviour, we would have seen tens of thousands more families facing the exact same grief and pain you’re dealing with now.

Instead, you saved us.

Your name and your photograph won’t be on the news. We won’t applaud for you or paint portraits of you to hang in Westminster in years to come. Your name won’t be in any history book. Humans are crap like this: we like to believe that history is made by individuals, by great men.

But you – all of you who stuck with the actions needed to slow the spread of this virus despite your own fear or agony – each and every one of you did the right thing. For what it’s worth, I am so very grateful. There’s a good chance you have saved the lives of countless people, including those that I love.

Thank you

PICTFOR Summer Reception

I was lucky enough to be asked to compère the Parliamentary Internet, Communications, and Technology Forum summer reception. PICTFOR is an all-party group that helps to shape policy by ensuring that MPs and Lords are well informed.

selfie on the riverside terrace at the UK parliament building
Houses of Parliament Terrace – a very nice place for tea

I was particularly honoured to be able to introduce Carly Kind, the new director of the Ada Lovelace Institute. A human rights lawyer specialising in privacy and digital rights, she is an all round kick ass person!

I also got to play with some amazing VR surgery training tools. I remember seeing some talks about the very earliest stages of combining haptics and VR back in my PhD days (the early 2000s.) It was a humbling experience. Feeling every vibration, every change in elasticity and plasticity, I found it hard to hold on to the idea that I was standing at a drinks reception, rather than wrist deep in someone’s body.  It made me want to reread The Butchering Art, just thinking of how far we’ve come.

And somewhat delightfully, I got to be part of the fancy hair colour squad with Lady Neville-Rolfe!

Damn fun day all around!

Is it a naked llama?

I love getting copies of the translated editions of Swearing is Good for You. Like babies, they’re all unique and it’s not done to have favourites. From the subtle not to Never Mind the Bollocks… of the UK edition, to the cute kid flipping the bird on the US edition, to the beautiful F*ck Yeah pill on the US one.

But also like babies, some are…stranger than others? One edition turned up yesterday – thank you to CITIC Press and Felicity Bryan Associates – which has me a bit perplexed:

Picture of Emma holding the chinese edition of Swearing is Good for You
What the actual llama? Is this rude in China?

I’m astounded that anyone would take on the job of translating SIGFY because strong language is so culturally specific. But nothing has made me more aware of this fact than the cover of the Chinese edition.

Help me out, please, experts in Chinese culture. Is this rude? Does the word for llama sound like a swearword? Are Llamas somehow taboo? Is it even a llama? I will send this copy to the first person who can clear up the mystery! Answers on a tweet to @sciwriby please!


Strong Women, Strong Language

One of the absolute best things about writing Swearing is Good for You is how many brilliant, inspiring, supportive women I’ve had the chance to work with. I’ll talk more about my agent and publisher in another post, but in this one, I want to give a shout-out to three women I’ve had the enormous privilege to take part in discussions with.

First, meet Jessica Fostekew, comedian by trade and kick arse smart arse by inclination! She and I will be appearing together on November 12th 2017 at Stylist Live on the Thrive stage, helping 175 women get in touch with their unapologetic bad arse selves.

Earlier this week I also got to take part in one of the most fun episodes of Radio Three’s Free Thinking that I think there’s ever been! Poet Bridget Minamore and Comedian and Trump heckler Janey Godley and me all joined historian John Gallagher and host Matthew Sweet for a discussion of the pros and cons of swearing.  

I don’t normally get to work with anywhere near this many women (something I’m always actively trying to fix in my role working in AI) and it’s an absolute joy spending time with smart (and sweary) sisters!