Craig Brown has to mind his Ps and Qs when he goes carol-singing with The Pedants’ Association
It’s always pleasant to go carol-singing, or carols-singing, with The Pedants’ Association, formerly The Pedants Association, originally The Pedant’s Association. I first joined ten years ago with the long-term aim of attracting the requisite number of votes in order to change its title to The Association of Pedants, thus rendering the apostrophe redundant, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. In fact, far from it: Rome was built over a period of a good many centuries. Indeed, the last time I paid it a visit, I noticed a great deal of building work still in progress.
Each and/or every year, an evening of carols kicks off the Association’s Christmas celebrations, though not literally so, as there is the world of difference between a football and a carol. One of them is round, and the other cannot be defined by shape, though our seasonal song-sheets tend towards the rectangular.
But I digress! When the company had assembled, Mr Little spoke up. ‘Pray silence while I take the roll-call,’ he said.
‘On a point of order,’ piped up Ms Everett, ‘may I ask Mr Little whether or not he is planning to take the aforesaid roll-call off the premises, and, if so, when he proposes to return it to its appropriate home?’
Mr Little welcomed the interjection. ‘I am most grateful to Ms Everett for delivering herself of a characteristically pertinent point. I stand corrected, or would so do were I not standing but sitting. I should make it clear that I shall be “taking” the roll-call only in that verb’s secondary, or even tertiary, sense of “conducting” the roll-call. Furthermore, my clipboard plus attached sheets will at all times remain on the premises.’
As there were only eight (8) pedants present, the roll-call took no longer than half an hour, including all checks and clarifications. The only notable incident recorded in the minutes of the Association occurred when Mr Hamilton, upon hearing his name called, answered ‘Here!’ and Mr Little asked him to elucidate for future reference whether he was spelling that ‘h-e-r-e’ or ‘h-e-a-r’.
So off we set, in the sense of depart. At our first port of call, we voted, by our favoured system of the single transferable vote, to sing ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’. We had almost reached the second word before Ms Everett said, ‘On a point of information!’ and asked whether it was not a trifle (not in the sense of pudding or dessert but in the sense of slight) anachronistic to describe Bethlehem as little when, in the present day, it is, after all, something of a metropolis.
‘We must agree to disagree,’ interjected Mr Little.
‘I agree,’ said Ms Everett.
‘I disagree,’ said Mr Thompson with a ‘p’.
A certain amount of debate concluded with a compromise. After a spirited rendition of ‘O Large Town or Small City of Bethlehem’, we pressed the bell adjacent to the door of the premises outside of which we had previously been singing.
‘No one is answering the doorbell,’ observed Mr Little. ‘From that, I would conclude one of two things: a) that at present no one is at home or b) one or more people is or are at home but they are choosing not to answer the doorbell.’
‘A fair deduction, Mr Little,’ said Mr Thompson with a ‘p’. ‘Though I would need to have the doorbell tested and approved by a certified electrician before concurring one hundred per cent with your analysis.’
We decided to sing another carol, a little louder this time in order to counteract the possible absence of a working doorbell. After candidates for a solo had been invited to put their names forward, Ms Everett volunteered to take the first verse, by which I mean sing it rather than remove it, of course.
‘The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,’ sang Ms Everett, ‘Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.’ Ms Everett was shortly to embark on the subsequent line when she was met by a show of hands. ‘On a point of information,’ inquired Mr Hamilton, ‘Shouldn’t that be “fully grown”?’
‘And why bother to mention the ivy as a possible contender, fully grown or otherwise, only to dismiss it in the next line in favour of the holly, which, to my mind at any rate, is the inferior?’
There followed a lively exchange as to the relative merits of these two plants and/or shrubs. If only our critics could ‘sit in’ on one of these discussions, they would soon discover that we pedants are somewhat more fascinating than we are sometimes portrayed, albeit in a light-hearted fashion, by the popular press!!!
It was at some point during this debate that, much to our surprise, the door to the house swung open. A man and a woman stood in the doorway. The man was of medium height, and so was the woman. He had dark hair, while hers was mousey (in colour only, though; there were no small rodents inhabiting it, at least not on the evidence supplied by, or available from, a cursory glance).
‘Good evening,’ said Mr Little, seeking to break the ice, a popular phrase meaning to overcome formality or shyness, particularly between strangers.
‘Good evening,’ replied the man and the woman at the same time (18.34 hours GMT).
‘We are carol singers,’ continued Mr Little. ‘We sing carols. Would you like us to embark upon another carol? Or would you prefer us to leave?’
‘Do you accept requests?’ asked the woman.
‘By all means,’ said Mr Little, ‘as long as we know the song requested.’
‘We would like you to sing “Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus”, a song first made famous by the legendary Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.’
It was an unusual request for a troupe of carols-singers. At first I failed to recognise the title, as the couple had made no mention of the brackets (i.e. ‘Je T’Aime (Moi Non Plus)’) that had been so clearly present in the original. Luckily, Ms Everett was quick off the mark and remembered the tune. But it was not until she began to hum the opening note that I took a closer look at the man and the woman. I noticed they were not wearing any clothes. In fact, quite the opposite. They were both naked.
Even now, I do not know what caused me to notice this. My interest in other people tends to revolve more around home furnishings and/or interior decoration rather than items of clothing, or lack of. I chose not to mention this nude display to my fellow Pedants, lest it put them off their stride. And by this time, Ms Everett was well under way, and she brooks no interruption.
We were all joining in with the third chorus, and Mr Thompson with a ‘p’ was gamely supplying the requisite sighing and heavy breathing when my eyes strayed towards the welcome mat on the doorstep. At least, I presume it was a welcome mat. Hard as I tried, I could see only the ‘W’ and the ‘E’. For this reason, I have been forced to make an informed guess at the letters in between. It might have been Wearisome or Winsome, Widdecombe, or any number of other words. Regrettably, the missing letters were covered by the naked bodies of the couple lying together on the mat. This is why I cannot be 100 per cent sure of the precise word.
Three minutes and 20 seconds later, as we were walking towards our subsequent destination, I asked Mr Little whether he had caught the word on the mat. Oddly enough, he had not seen the mat, let alone the word upon it. ‘I was too upset by that ghastly display to notice anything else,’ he said.
‘To which ghastly dis
play are you referring?’ I said.
‘Did you not see the sign in the garden?’ replied Mr Little. ‘It said “Trespasser’s Will Be Prosecuted”. Have these people no inkling of the distress caused by an aberrant apostrophe?’
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated December 13, 2003