I did a terrible thing the other day.
I was mooching about on Facebook (obviously not looking for horse pictures) when I came across something someone had posted for a friend. It was an advertisement for a Writers’ Retreat, in the lovely Umbrian hills. The virtual flyer was beautifully produced, with a picture of verdant Italy. One could almost smell the pines and imagine the coruscating literary conversation.
The only problem was that the headline said:
I pondered this for a while. I attempted to employ restraint. In the end, I could not help myself.
I left a little comment, with a mitigating smiley face at the end of it to indicate that I was not shaking my finger in a maiden aunt-ish way, but coming in peace. I pointed out, as politely as I could, that WRITERS RETREAT should have an apostrophe in it. Otherwise, I said helpfully, it actually meant a lot of writers going backwards. I had a sudden vision of a cohort of bespectacled scribblers running away from Moscow. Did they learn nothing from Napoleon?
There was, of course, no reply. I could imagine the author and her friend tutting and grumbling about ghastly interfering know-bests on the horrid internet. It was none of my business, after all.
Just this morning, I found a rather brilliant video which had text running over it. I counted at least three grocer’s apostrophes. I shuddered a little, but said nothing. It was a video about horsemanship, not writing, so I felt that the errors were not egregious. They did not take away from the professionalism of the thing, since the profession was not literary. Who cares if they referred to horses in the plural as horse’s?
Even good, professional writers can slip mistakes past the subs. I saw Douglas Murray dangle a modifier in this week’s Speccie. I’m afraid to say that even dear old Auntie is prone to this. I remember a terrible moment on the News At Ten when the newsreader said, of Beryl Bainbridge: ‘Nominated five times, the Booker Prize continued to elude her.’ Which of course means the Booker was nominated five times, not the brilliant Miss Beryl.
Oddly, I mind about modifiers almost more than I mind about misplaced apostrophes. A dangler is so ugly and clumsy; it arrests the eye, and drags the reader to a screaming halt. The worst ones muddy or even entirely obliterate the sense of the thing. Often one must go back and read the sentence again to see what it really means.
The reason that pedants get so grumpy is not, I think, because they are twitchy fusspots, always looking for something over which to chunter. I think it is because they love clarity. That is certainly why I get cross. Whenever sense is lost, a little piece of my writer’s heart dies.
Of course, I sit in the middle of the most shattery of glass houses on this one. I have blind spots over the spelling of certain words. Because I write this blog quite fast, and do not have time for endless editing, there are often typing mistakes. (Sometimes the Dear Readers kindly correct, saving me from shame.) I use far too many semi-colons. I start sentences with conjunctions; sometimes whole paragraphs too. I dare to end a sentence with a preposition, when the to whoms and of whiches sound a little too pompous. I throw words in the air and watch them fall. In this post alone there has been ‘aunt-ish’ which is not a word at all.
Still, even though people may pick up their brickbats and hurl them right at me, I stand by my principle. Clarity is queen, and I shall serve her all my days. Even if that service shall sometimes be a little imperfect.
Horrid, dour, shivery sort of day, with angry low skies and sloppy snow. So the only answer was the close-up, for beauty:
Myfanwy is very pleased with her smart blue rug, to keep her cosy as tonight’s blizzards roar in:
Red and Autumn having a quiet girls’ moment:
Before this happens:
It’s a big moment, the first schooling in full Western saddle. Annoyingly, I take Red to the other side of the field to do some sedate standing exercises. HOW long do I have to stay here?:
Because there is something REALLY interesting going on over there:
Oh, all right:
She stood, stock still, for ten minutes, whilst Autumn had a little bronco moment, and I wandered across the paddock, faffing about with the camera. It’s one of those exercises that a lot of people would think perfectly nuts. I like it. It teaches trust and attention and manners. I like these small building blocks; I like working from the ground up. It’s no fun having an unsettled, barging, pushy horse. Sometimes I think, as we do leading and standing and backing, the simplest, most honest things, that everything I am doing with her is about stillness. She may be an ex-racing thoroughbred mare, but she has a real talent for stillness. It’s one of the things about her that touches my heart the most.
Prettiest, most demure face:
And from Stanley the Dog, most serious Sit and Stay face:
There is a big stick at his feet and he is counting the seconds until he is allowed to chase it again.