Saturday 03 Dec 2016

Tripping Up
Sjef Frenken

“I finally got around to reading your book of short stories,” said Jack. “Not bad…”

“That’s something,” I said

“… but no threat to Margaret Atwood,” Jack continued.

“I had no intention of threatening Miss Atwood,” I said.

“I’m sure she isn’t worried. Especially if she knows you. Actually,” said Jack, “I have a couple of bones to pick. In the story about the safe-cracker, you have the Ottawa River flowing under the Bank Street Bridge at Riverside.”

“Did I write that?”

“How long have you lived in Ottawa?” asked Jack

“More than fifty years,” I admitted

“And you can’t tell the difference between the Ottawa River and the Rideau River?”

“That is stupid, you’re right. I’ll have to add it to the ‘errata’ list.”

“There’s more,” said Jack.

“Like what?”

“Like you have the thief hanging out at a Cora’s restaurant the evening that he is about to rob the bank.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Have you ever been to a Cora’s?”

I admitted that I’d been for lunch to a Cora’s in Montreal once.

“Well then,” said Jack, “don’t you know Cora’s isn’t open in the evening? It only serves breakfast and lunch. And if the robber is hanging around a Cora’s after it was closed, he’d really be out of place, wouldn’t he? He’d be noticed in no time. He obviously isn’t that stupid.”

“Originally I had him at a Tim Horton’s. But my daughter, who does the lay-out and design of my books, pointed out that the company has dropped the apostrophe and now calls itself Tim Hortons. I said that the name of the hockey player after whom the company was named, was Horton, not Hortons. So I insisted that the apostrophe be retained. Over my dead body, said my daughter. I figured the best way to overcome an immovable object was to move around it. For various reasons I wasn’t going to use a McDonald’s or an Arby’s, even if they had an apostrophe in their name. In fact, the only name I could come up with at that moment was ‘Cora’s’, which I knew had an apostrophe in it.”

“You could’ve used ‘Harvey’s,” said Jack.

“Seeing as how I’m a vegetarian, the name ‘Harvey’s’ didn’t exactly jump up in my mind. They do make a fine hamburger though, as I remember from a time – some forty years ago – when I still ate dead animals.”

“It’s not as if I’ve been eating live ones lately,” Jack commented, “although I’ve let a few small live ones slip down my throat in years gone by.”

Jack paused for a moment’s reflection.

“What’s your hang-up about that apostrophe, anyway,” said Jack. You’re always the one to tell me to be in step with the march of language.”

“I know,” I said, “but there are some things I find a little hard to take. And one of them is any attempt to infringe on the integrity of a person’s name – a valuable commodity, I think. As I said, the hockey player’s name was Horton, not Hortons.”

“You’re fighting a losing battle here, especially if your daughter has a veto of what she’ll let you print.”

“I know,” I said, “and I have the people who run the Canadian Geographical Names database against me as well. I live in Bell’s Corners, as you know, but the road sign reads Bells Corners. The family after whom the town was named was Bell, not Bells. But the authorities that have the say-so, have decided to drop the apostrophe. Why? I have no idea, unless they think the Canadian public is too stupid to handle that small but important punctuation device.”

“I agree,” said Jack, “what’s the world coming to!”

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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