REAL LIVES: rotten potatoe's, soggy strawberry's and other bad habits

THE suzi feay COLUMN
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
AH, WINCHESTER! Ancient cathedral city, meeting-place of parliaments, haunt of kings and scholars, home to the famously batty public school (I have only known two Wykehamists, but they were both crazed). Just the place for a spot of tiffin on a sunny Sunday. So off to Richoux in the High Street for exceedingly good cinnamon toast and speciality teas, in a half-timbered manor called God Begot House. So proud are Richoux of this building that they have printed up a little pamphlet about its history. What a pity that the person who penned it was illiterate.

I realise that the Independent on Sunday is not perhaps the most secure of glass houses from which to launch missiles, but such sentences as "The Manor made it's [sic] own laws and exacted it's own taxes" send me into a froth of indignation. Okay, the possessive can be pretty tricky (she says patronisingly). Her, his and its, but Kathy's, Sally's and Simon's. Hey, I didn't make up the rules! But at least the plural is pretty easy. You just add an 's'. One apple, two apples. If I were queen I would have erected the Apostrophe Spikes at the Tower by now, impaling market traders and encouraging the populace to pelt them with rotten potatoe's and soggy strawberry's.

I recently went round an English Heritage castle reading about the ancient family, the Nevilles, who had once lived there. Or rather the Neville's, as they were consistently called except when describing a singular Neville in possession of something, in which case it became, inevitably, Nevilles. For English Heritage (revel in the ironies of that name!) to go to all the trouble of writing up historical notes on large laminated boards for schoolkids to read, without anyone with a passing knowledge of the English language ever having a hand in the process, is amazingly depressing.

Mix up a whisky mac and what's on the back of the ginger wine bottle? "Its time for a Stone's". I don't know about you, but I had "It is, apostrophe s" drummed into me at school. The polystyrene cup I drink from at work has "No CFC's" printed on the bottom. It's dizzying to calculate how many hundreds of thousands of those cups have been moulded, each with its proud stamp of ignorance: mmm, you can hear the writer thinking, that plural looks somehow naked without a figleaf apostrophe ...

A pal of mine once created a fake letterhead for "The Society for the Preservation of the Apostrophe", blizzarding errant supermarket signwriters, fruit and veg vendors and advertisers with quasi-threats to mend their syntactic ways. A sixth-form prank by grammar nerds, I thought at the time, but I dunno: I might resurrect the SPA myself.

THE BEAST has been delivered. It crouches malevolently outside our house. It's long, black, sinuous and powerful. It scares me to death.

"Don't call it the Beast," says B. "It's just a car." A friend went by our house the other day: "Saw the Beast out front. If I were a passing Plod," she goes on with relish, "I'd think, there's a drug dealer living there." I haven't dared start it up yet, though I did once climb into the driving seat, a luxuriously appointed dentist's chair which flings you into a near prostrate driving position. As for the windscreen, it's like looking at the road from the inside of a letterbox. And there are more dials, twiddlers and flashing lights than the cockpit of the sort of light aircraft that crashes every weekend in the Home Counties.

B has always been a bit of a Judge Dredd of the roads, imperturbably handing out rough justice to motorised churls by cutting them up. The Beast just makes things worse. Strapped helplessly into my passenger seat and hurtling towards the rear end of a taxi, I experience that uniquely modern combination of extreme physical comfort and nerve-shredding terror. "Don't tell me how to drive when you're an incompetent driver yourself!" bellows B, thus striking at the very root of my career as a critic. Hasn't he realised I spend my entire life telling other people how to do things I can't do myself?