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… et idem indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus [*]


Giles Coren is a man who treasures language, someone who really bothers about the way that English is not only written (and sounds in the head) but also punctuated. In his column in Saturday’s Times we had two glorious – and, for the purposes of this blog, relevant – examples of his meticulous approach. If you subscribe to the online edition, you can read it here. I will not go behind News International’s wretched firewall, however, because I buy the paper Times and mulishly refuse to pay twice for the same thing.

In the first item, he described how the buttock-brained Jobsworths of Westminster Council’s parking department tried to fine him for illegally parking beneath a purportedly instructive road sign, which read:

Electrical vehicle recharging point at all times Mon-Sat 8.30am-6.30pm 4 hours No return 4 hours

He and his wife studied it long and carefully, and parsed that dog’s breakfast of ‘English as a Second Language’ to mean that parking was allowed after 6.30pm.

Westminster Council, by contrast, maintained that it meant that only lekky vehicles could park there at any time, and stood by their request for wedge. Coren demanded a court hearing, and was threatened with wearing costs of £1,000 if his case was deemed to be frivolous. He remained implacable. The council’s goons further defied both logic and orthography by asserting in written evidence that “punctuation is not required on roadside signage”.

Being prepared to pit his syntactic acuity against the grunting illiterates of City Hall, Coren stuck defiantly to his guns … and won. The adjudicator at the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service (yes, really!) found that “… because of the language used … I am not satisfied that the time-plate was capable of being enforced in law”. I wonder how much that pitiful saga cost the boneheads in administrative time. Were I a Westminster Council taxpayer I’d be tempted to sue them for waste – and stupidity.

In the second item he lamented an egregious lapse in Graham Greene’s short memoir, A Sort of Life, whose first sentence begins: “An autobiography is only a ‘sort of life’ – it may contain less errors of fact than a biography…”. Perhaps, if Greene (himself a sub-editor on The Times for four years) hadn’t had the services of a competent subbie at Heinemann, his publishers, he would be fewer revered as a novelist.

Time for an on-topic joke, from the sublime Tommy Cooper. “You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen. It said ‘Parking Fine’. So that was nice.”

[*] and yet I also become annoyed whenever the great Homer nods off. (Horace. Ars Poetica)


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  1. Oliver B permalink

    Yes, I saw that, loved it and bet myself a grand that it would be appearing here. I remember you telling me uproarious stories of drinking with the ‘News Quiz’ panel after shows at the Paris Theatre, with Simon and Ali Hoggart and Alan C.

  2. Oliver B permalink

    Oh yes, and cut down on the Latin, you ponce! That’s one fucking language you *don’t* speak.

  3. Guyser permalink

    Coren and Will Self: both of them noble stand-outs in the fight for good English. Did you hear WS in “A Point of View” (Friday evening/Sunday morning), defending the depth and breadth of his vocabulary? If not, grab it on the iPlayer.

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