October 2014

A little sign of clarity

A message came from a client who has written (compiled?) a 140,000-word manuscript that is in severe need of revision and correction: “I will do a bit of research on apostrophes etc as I dont (sic) know much about that stuff,”  she wrote.

Why are apostrophes such a big problem for so many people? Why are they dismissed as “that stuff” as if  something beyond consideration?

And what is the education system doing to allow simple punctuation to become such a problem?

“Writers” seem not to understand the basics – the difference between a plural and a possessive. Oh dear, what are we going to do?

Responses to a complaint I made about this woeful lack of education elicited the information that “we weren’t taught such things” – a situation that seems to apply to a large slice of the population who were allegedly schooled in the ’70s and ’80s.

One respondent commented that “Thankfully, most universities are now offering this type of assistance, either through an entire unit or through online study skills.” She admitted, however, that she remains unsure regarding her placement of  “the dreaded comma” and that it was only as a post graduate student that she was able to work on her grammar – although “I still don’t get it.”

Two questions arise: why is it even necessary for universities (places of higher learning?) to teach the basics of grammar, and what are they doing admitting as students people who don’t know where to place an apostrophe?

Punctuation exists to provide and clarify meaning. Without it a sentence becomes at best confusing; at worst, mere gibberish.


Blackberry blues

The blackberry season is almost over. It came with great abundance and lingered long beyond its usual span. But now the fruit is squishy on the bramble and almost too fragile to pluck.

Thus another blackberrying season has come and gone without the involvement it merits. The promise to oneself to carry containers on the next walk along the lanes and fill them with this luscious fruit has once again come to nought. And with it has gone the vow to transform this fresh and free harvest into jams and desserts and, above all, into that king of puds, a blackberry and apple pie to be served with dollops of clotted cream.

Why do we let such simple pleasures pass us by? These are the foundations upon which happy childhood memories are built to last a lifetime. Excursions along the hedgerows with mum and dad are still recalled and greatly treasured. They, of course, did the gathering into jars and raffia bags; I worked a less productive roster of one for the pot and one for me, the deep blue stains on lips and fingers being testimony to my sampling.

There would be a picnic around a small camp fire with tea or soup from a Thermos to reward and refresh us before pedalling home, often via a farm to buy the apples for the pies and jams that mum prepared for winter storage.

Everyone had their secret blackberry plot where they claimed the fruit would be at its most bulbous and juicy. The brambles would be well stripped until the berries remaining were accessible only to those with the longest arms or a rake to drag the vines closer.

Now the delights of blackberrying seem to be enjoyed by few. These days the fruit is left to waste and wither on the bush and what costs nothing to gather on a country stroll is “picked” from a supermarket shelf in return for money.

And childhood memories will be of what?

Next year I will go blackberrying.