I’ve got this friend who’s vegetarian, vegan, non-leather-or-wool-wearing and non-car-driving. But he does like a pint, and we meet from time to time in his local pub and have a drink before I drive him to a French club. (He accepts lifts in cars.)
He’s a very nice guy. Recently he said look, we’re always drinking in my local – why don’t we meet up in yours, so you won’t have to worry about drinking and driving – and I’ll be on my bike so it won’t matter. It was a nice thought. So I said fine, let’s meet in the Stag and Hounds.
His jaw dropped. ‘I’m sorry’, he said, ‘I won’t meet you in a pub called the Stag and Hounds. I don’t believe in the exploitation of animals.’
‘But,’ I said, ‘we’ve always drunk in your pub, and it’s called the Nag’s Head’.
‘Yes’, he said, ‘but the head is attached to the nag’.
‘If you look at the sign outside my pub,’ I said, 'you will see that the heads of the Stag and the hounds are firmly affixed to their bodies’. But he wouldn’t budge, and we still meet in the Nag’s Head. I drove by it the other day – and you know what? – the head of the nag is torso-less. Perhaps he just doesn’t want to drink with me.
Now I didn't think I was paranoid - well not very much - but when my wife gave me Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves at Christmas, I had second thoughts. Much as I like her, and I do (she might read this) I have to question her tact in choosing that particular gift*. Giving a writer a book on punctuation is a bit like giving Michael Schumacher Car Driving for Beginners or Fred and Ginger First Steps in Ballroom Dancing.
Paranoia apart, it’s a fascinating book, but I still don’t know why it was so successful: grammarians didn’t need it and the rest don’t care.
Ms Truss talks of the APS – Apostrophe Protection Society – a group of grammar vigilantes who write (in impeccable grammar no doubt) to perpetrators of sins like the grocer’s apostrophe (banana’s) and such, to point out their error. Her book even has a set of adhesive apostrophes of different sizes that you can stick in where they have been omitted, and a set of plain white stickers with which to cover redundant ones – a printed card I got from an estate agent recently said they dealt in ‘sale’s and rental’s’!
But this surely highlights a basic contradiction of blogging. You start off saying, 'This is my blog and I will write it how I please, regardless of such trivialities as grammar, punctuation and the like'. But once you know someone is reading it, you feel a writer’s duty to proof-read and correct.
Hemingway said that easy writing is hard reading, and that it takes hard writing to make easy reading – so what was formerly a casual personal record of one’s innermost thoughts becomes hard work – and unpaid work at that. Or is it only me?
Next week – dangling participles (‘As a valued customer, I am writing to tell you about…’) and the difference between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’. Yawn.
* OK – I’ll come clean. I asked her for it.