The Incredible Pedantry of Winston Radclyffe
Winston Radclyffe suffered from a terrible affliction of correctness and propriety. Whilst he enjoyed employing great censure of the behaviour and morals (or lack thereof) of his fellow human beings, this explosion of pedantry more commonly manifested itself in an almost morbid obsession with punctuation. A misused semicolon, a missing full stop or an erroneous hyphen could bring him almost to a fit.
On other occasions, however, such misuse paralysed him. He had once placed his bladder under terrible siege as a teenager by refusing to use a public lavatory whose sign had asked him politely to ‘please leave these toilet’s in the condition you found them’.
‘Punctuation marks are the linguistic equivalent of traffic signals!’ he was fond of booming to his wife who, on first hearing this alienating speech on an early date, had sworn never to see him again and often wondered how she had so spectacularly failed to keep this vow.
‘They are a courtesy to your readers, showing them where to pause, where to rush, which words to connect and which to separate; they add drama and effect, they define meaning and, above all, they smooth the process of reading and make it a delight, not a struggle.’
While she conceded that her husband had a point to a degree, Rita Radclyffe suffered regular mortification as Christmas cards from dear friends were returned with corrections marked in a bold hand, public declarations were made over signposts and billboards that made her cheeks blush red and, occasionally, even the counter-graffiti of misspelled graffiti.
Rita Radclyffe spent much time devising occupations for her husband to prevent these public outbursts, or the quieter, but no less irritating, discontented grumbles he treated her to when there were no unfortunate bystanders to overhear. On one holiday, which had turned out to be anything but, she had devised a wonderful distraction for him – deep-sea fishing. One of the few things that Winston seemed to enjoy without rancour, was fishing; here was a golden opportunity to be rid of him for a day and have him restored to her in the evening, a slightly less disgruntled man.
She had even put the deposit down and driven him there in their musty-smelling hired car so there could be no backing out on his part. But, when they arrived, it was not an excited happiness that overtook his countenance but flushed cheeks and hunched shoulders which drew her attention to the sign just in front of them.
A beautiful quote inscribed on the wall was missing a crucial apostrophe and she knew immediately there would be no coaxing him to set sail with anyone associated with this sign.
It was at times like this while driving, teeth gritted, knuckles white, murder on her mind, a day on the beach reading fashion magazines in a normally-prohibited bathing suit shattered, that she clung to The Thought.
Throughout the decades of marriage she had endured – and, at times, this had felt like one long exhibition of pedantry – The Thought had kept her going.
It had occurred to her when a friend had sent a gorgeous bouquet ‘to celebrate you’re birthday’. The card was duly corrected and returned to its humiliated sender who never acknowledged her birthday again.
As she sat, fuming, arranging the flowers in a tall glass vase, Rita thought about her outrageous husband and what was likely to become of them. It was surely only a matter of time, as they grew older and more infirm, before Winston was carried off, probably in a fit of apoplectic rage over an ill-used comma, and, when she had triumphantly survived him, she would at last wreak her revenge.
He had already chosen a quote from Socrates, whom he much admired, to stand sentinel over his final resting place. Rita would oblige him in this wish, of course, but the inscription would appear her way.
“Death may be the greatest of all human blessing’s”