I have an unhealthy fascination with signs. I always want to photograph the more amusing ones and especially those with faulty punctuation. I have been known to lick my finger and correct signs scribbled on blackboards outside shops, restaurants or market stalls.
Opposite the hospital in Dundonald, Belfast there is a large hoarding advertising a chip shop. In foot high neon letters of yellow and blue it declares that the Golden Chip promises ‘Frying at it’s best’. Already on my computer screen the little green line has appeared under the errant apostrophe. Why would someone not check this before commissioning the sign maker?
I used this in an English lesson once and my class challenged me to go in and tell them that there was a mistake on their advertising sign. I did, and was sorry. The young girl behind the counter looked as if she didn’t care about punctuation – she didn’t. To make matters worse, she had the same logo with the same mistake emblazoned on her tee-shirt. I asked her whether anyone had ever mentioned the mistake on the sign to her and she looked at me blankly. Bravely I persisted and carefully explained that the word ‘its’ only has an apostrophe when it means ‘it is’. Again, nothing. I had started so I had to finish. With less and less conviction I muttered that I knew it wasn’t her fault and that whoever had ordered the sign in the first place was to blame. By this time she was looking at me as if I was speaking in Swahili. I might as well have been. Grammar is another language which, like Maths, pupils nowadays are convinced they will never need. Yet what right had I to make her feel bad? I was finally silenced by her icy, unforgiving stare and I mumbled sheepishly, ‘Fish supper, please’. She spoke only once: ‘Salt and vinegar with them chips, love?’
I am sorry to say that I have not learnt my lesson. I attended a church conference recently where the arty and creative had the opportunity to present their efforts in the foyer. In the corner a string quartet was playing softly. One lady had displayed a vast array of vegetables in symmetrical formation, like a child’s nature table at harvest time. Upstairs the same lady had constructed what looked like a wedding cake entirely from fresh flowers. Someone else was making pink smoothies and serving them in miniature communion glasses!
A man who works in the music industry had lovingly traced the history of musical influences through the years and his title was emblazoned across the top and repeated several times below: ‘The evolution of contemporary music and it’s impact on Western thought and culture.’ Oh dear! There it was again – that intrusive apostrophe. Did I walk away, commending my friend for his effort, dedication and commitment to inform and educate? No, I didn’t. I stepped forward and gently and arrogantly covered the apostrophe with my thumb. He saw. I’ll know that there is a God who can change my wretched human heart when I resist the urge to fix things and people.
Today on a notice board outside a church I read: ‘Have you got an attitude? Try a beatitude!’ How about: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they know when to shut up'?
Speaking of being quiet, here’s a photo my husband took in the little boys’ room in a US church. Only in America!