Tuesday 2 July 2013

Older generation should OF known better than that

One of my dwindling stock of small private pleasures is taking an almost daily look at a website devoted to photographs of Newcastle in the past.

The sort of thing that gladdens my heart (copyright unknown)

I still hope that one day I will come across a picture of my mother leading a gabardine-clad boy on our weekly Saturday pilgrimage to the Tatler or News Theatre, then on to R.A. Dodds in the Grainger Market for our Sunday joint, and Tilley’s in Clayton Street for cream cakes for afternoon tea.

Or perhaps by some remote chance someone captured the look on my father’s face in the 1930s, when a backfiring motorcycle on Pilgrim Street caused two shire horses to rear and the LNER delivery cart they were pulling to reverse smartly into the bonnet of his brand new car.

But sadly I fear that I am going to have to close off this small avenue of pleasure because I am regularly driven close to apoplexy by the comments beneath the photos, and particularly by their authors’ almost universal conviction that the verb “have” is spelt “of”. (And the few who differ on this point are almost all convinced that the correct form is “uv”.)

Somehow this is particularly irksome because the natural audience for sites trading in nostalgia is the older generation. Such sloppiness may be forgivable in the young, who have had the benefit of our marvellous comprehensive education system, but surely their seniors should know better? They should be among the “haves” not the “of-nots”.

Surely teacher would have mentioned the whole "of / have" business?

I realise that I ought to be capable of rising above this sort of thing and simply rejoicing when people take pleasure in expressing themselves. After all, their observations are still intelligible (if not always particularly intelligent), so why should they be hidebound by tedious old rules?

I also know that I am in no position to cast stones, since an ex-girlfriend who teaches English regularly pulls me up on this column’s terrible grammar (for which my only defence is that the Royal Grammar School, in my day, seemed to regard it as the cornerstone of teaching in every language apart from English).

But while I find it increasingly hard to remember how I ever got through the day without constant access to the internet, the wilful illiteracy of so many of its users is becoming increasingly hard to bear. Along with their penchant for posting questions to which the answer is blindingly obvious, if only they could be bothered to do a five second search before asking them.

Then there is the constant bickering about crediting photographs, and whether they may be shared or reproduced. (Can anyone explain to me why, if you are jealous of the copyright of your material, you would post it on the internet in the first place?)

Plus the sheer venomous ill will to be observed in comments on every piece of writing ever published by anyone on every website in the world.

I yearn for that gentler and slower world in which people wrote polite letters in copperplate then sent them on their way by Royal Mail. In fact, the very world captured in those black and white photographs from the 1950s that I really must stop seeking out online.

Perhaps just the one last whiff of nostalgia ...

Particularly when there are alternatives available in my family albums of the time that I never, ever look at; and the dozens of picture books that I have acquired over the years to sit gathering dust on my shelves. While I click on inferior images on my laptop that have the virtue of being instantly accessible, and a welcome distraction from whatever work I am supposed to be doing at the time.

Early in my career, an unkind but perceptive superior suggested that my epitaph would be “He had great gifts but was too lazy to unwrap them”. Now I suspect it might be “He acquired a great library but was too idle to get up and open a book.”

The distinguished science author Steven Pinker, interviewed on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Sunday, expressed confidence that Twitter and textspeak would not destroy conventional English, any more than the telegram had done in the 19th century. I 4 1 wud leik to think he cud of bin rite.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1 comment:

Steve Finnell said...

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