Mary Killen

Dear Mary: How can we pin down our neighbours’ rogue apostrophes?

Plus: a cure for reader's block

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Q. We have just moved into a charming little hamlet in Warwickshire and were delighted to find a bottle of wine and a friendly card to welcome us from the neighbours. I was a little bit dismayed to see that they had introduced themselves in their card as from the ‘Paddock’s’ (sic). Our problem is that the place is hard to find and we have agreed with these delightful neighbours that we should erect a sign listing the three dwellings in question at the end of the driveway that leads to our house and theirs and, without thinking, left it to them to organise the sign. How can we politely see that the aberrant apostrophe does not appear and that they don’t shove a further apostrophe in the name of our house?

—J.P., Warks

A. Attract your postman into your own dwelling for refreshments and ask his view on whether such a sign would be helpful. Coax out of him the opinion that it would be preferable for the house names to be spelled correctly. Lead on to the discussion of apostrophe use until he admits that misapplied apostrophes could cause confusion to Post Office sorting machines. You can then distance yourself from any implied criticism by reporting this professional’s view. Blinking blandly, say, ‘The postman says that neither of our house names officially has an apostrophe and we must be careful with the sign.’

Q. I have been reading too much history in recent times, a habit dating from university which has now resulted in a nasty episode of ‘reader’s block’. Two large first world war tomes were the final straw. Now I cannot even look at a book, and find anything longer than ‘High life’ intolerable. I even found myself browsing Cosmopolitan in the spa of a German hotel the other day. I am writing to you in desperation, Mary, in the hope that you could recommend a couple of restorative modern novels.

—P.F., Almaty, Kazakstan

A. Try The Tortoise and the Hare (1954), by Elizabeth Jenkins, as privately recommended by A.N. Wilson; and Stoner author John Williams’s epistolary novel Augustus (1971), as recommended by junior thinker Johnnie Kerr. Both are restorative. The second will restore your enjoyment of history.

Q. I have a number of children ranging in age from 18 to 28. I find it hard to keep track of when they’ll be visiting — for example over the Easter weekend some are arriving on Thursday, leaving on Saturday, some arriving on Friday etc. Any suggestions?

— L.G., Fosbury, Wilts

A. Why not create a Google document you can all have access to? Once one child fills it in, the others are spurred on by sibling rivalry and by the semi-public nature of the document. (This works.)