I popped into my local Supermarket for some fresh fruit and vegetables the other day. There was a sign saying APPLE’S AND ORANGE’S REDUCED so I added two bagfuls of them to the plum’s, pear’s, pepper’s and potato’s already in my trolley then walked the length of the checkouts till I found a reasonably short queue. When it came to my turn, the check-out girl just looked at my basket then pointed to the sign above the till: FOR CUSTOMERS WITH FIVE OR LESS ITEMS
Sorry, she said. You’ve got six items.
You’re sorry, I said. Listen. That sign doesn’t mean anything. It’s not even proper English.
She shrugged. The COMPLAINTS desk’s over there she said, pointing. Next.
The woman at the Complaints desk listened to me very politely then called for the manageress who also listened to me very politely. Language wasn’t static, she told me. Old rules sometimes have to give way to modern usage. Anyway, five items can be seen as a single unit in which case ‘less’ is perfectly appropriate.
So the customer isn’t always right? I asked her.
It all depends on the context, she said. And smiled sweetly.
Even though it is more expensive, I now do my shopping at Marks & Spencers, queueing quite happily with all the other pedants at the till that says FIVE ITEMS OR FEWER.
Good grammar is worth paying for.
Some smart-ass has been fooling around with this photo and if I knew how to I would erase the witless text but anyhow this is the house where I was born and where I spent the first dozen years of my sadly short life. We were poor and often went without but I can’t recall ever being unhappy. Hungry, yes, but unhappy, no.
Even the yearly gathering of the stones was good fun in its way – hard work, yes, but after we and our neighbours had finished and had all linked arms round the cairn to sing the Ingatherin song, we would troop off home still arm-in-arm for the big meal and more singing and dancing. It was always a memorable day. And night.
But it was hard work. My father diligently farmed the harsh land between the house and the sea, giving up more and more of his time to the ungrateful fields, less and less to his impoverished family. Unlike his Ayrshire counterpart however, one day the coulter of his plough threw up something a bit more valuable than a wee mouse nest – a larchwood chest containing a dozen Celtic brooches, five rings, a couple of bracelets and the jaw bone of a porpoise. We all stood looking down at the opened box, our mouths as open as the box then mother began to cry but not unhappy tears and father just looked at the shiny gold ornaments and shook his head then looked at us all and grinned his big grin and shook his head a bit more.
With the money he eventually got for that miraculous find, we all left Gartwick, a move about which I had mixed feelings – leaving my best friend Callum and the hens and the pony and the fishing was only partly made up for by ( can I use 3 prepositions together like that? Anyway I have!) the excitement of the moving to someplace new, someplace I’d just read about. New York.
Only I never got there. Just before we left I went down to the sea to, I suppose, bid some sort of farewell to all the good times I’d had, and