The spare room

One can discover wonders in the spare room.

The spare room of one’s parents-in-law, to be precise. Not the kind of spare room that has some kind of mysterious, solitary piece of furniture brooding in its corner, awaiting the inquisitive look of an open-minded child; though I am for the first time, I must confess, only just getting around to reading the complete set of the Chronicles of Narnia.

It’s something I grew up with – does anyone remember those BBC adaptations? – but I never read the complete set. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for sure, and maybe a couple of others, but I’m pretty sure I missed out The Horse and His Boy, The Silver Chair, and maybe even Dawn Treader.

This confession has left me a little ostracised among some friends. I repent in dust and ashes.

But in the spare room at the in-laws’, I discovered a complete set of Cordon Bleu cookery books! Well, I had a good chuckle with the first Baking Book in the series, as they were written in the seventies and sounded like it. They talked about ‘coffee breads’ which are so-called because they are often taken with coffee ‘on the continent’. They reminded readers politely that ‘the Americans use different measures from us’. The language throughout was distinctly proper and could only seriously be read in an accent worthy of Buckingham Palace.

It made me wish for a better day in the English language. A day when an editor didn’t have to grab the text with both hands and pound it like the pastries depicted until it was eventually readable and true to English grammatical rules. A day when people in any profession could write acceptably for themselves because they and the world around them had actually paid attention to the things they were taught at school.

A day when apostrophes were used for possessives (Dave’s ones) and contractions (isn’t that right?), and not for plurals. When people realised the importance of following this rule for maintaining the sanity of punctuationally pedantic fellow human beings.

The author of the book wasn’t Shakespeare. It wasn’t especially eloquent; but it was simple, and always well-stated. How many Dan Brown best-sellers could be described as such? Well, I’d better hop off the soapbox right there…

Don’t dismiss the spare room. Forgotten landscapes of beauty abound…

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