Diary

19th April 1996 at 01:00
It's an ill wind as blows nobody any good, they say, and so Carborundum was delighted to hear of the good fortune of Modbury school in deepest Devon.

Modbury, a tiny Victorian primary, now sports two spanking-new classrooms, inside loos which are the last word in sanitary splendour, and at least 12 extra parents in gainful employment. And it's all thanks to the national curriculum.

Let headteacher Gordon Waterhouse take up the tale, from his cordless phone in the infants' playground.

"In 1989 when the national curriculum first came out we were having a staff meeting wondering how we were going to do all the assessments and we came up with a system. Then other schools in the area asked how we did it. One of our governors runs a little computer marketing business, and we asked him if he could put it together for us a little more professionally and possibly market it to other schools, and it just took off."

Indeed. So far a million copies of The National Curriculum Record Book - otherwise known as Modbury's ticklists - have been sold in one form or another, and the school is better off to the tune of some Pounds 40,000.

Said cash made it possible for the building work to be done in a joint venture with Devon county council, and the Modbury mini-boom also enabled governor Alex Hammerstein to take on a dozen parents to handle the increased workload at Modbury Marketing. All this in a market town of perhaps 2,000 souls.

Mr Waterhouse muses: "Everyone had to have a ticklist but perhaps ours was simpler to use. But we were absolutely amazed by the way it took off. And the pupils were delighted that their teachers had done something which provided money."

And, Carborundum suspects, many teachers will be amazed that the spawn of Kenneth Baker has done so much good.

The apostrophe is one of Carborundum's favourite beasts, misused as it is by greengrocers up and down the land. So it is with great joy that we learn of a shrine erected to its devotion on the Internet.

There, pedantic types will be able to thrill to the distinction made by Sainsbury between its Children's Easter Eggs and those intended for Teenager's.

Much, much worse is the in memoriam notice for a lady who somewhere down the line became Glady's.

Situated as it is in a virtual Nerd's Paradise, this apostrophes' graveyard has the potential to be deeply dull . . . yet Carborundum has this feeling that it could actually entertain more than just the anoraks who routinely browse the Web.

After all, the author, Sue Palmer, is the sort of deviant who is plotting a fantasy spelling theme park, including sideshows such as the soft C circus, featuring acts like Cecil The Exciting Unicyclist and Cindy the Performing Civet. Not to mention regular characters on her schools language roadshow, with PC Full Stop, the Dashes - Ron and Ronette - and Connie Conjunction, who runs a dating agency. She's not your normal dry grammarian.

"Poor, abused apostrophes," breathes Ms Palmer, who wrote the Longman Reading Project and a new BBC series on grammar. "Anybody who loves language notices when there's an apostrophe in the wrong place. I used to get uptight about it, but it was my problem, so now I take photographs of the little creatures and bring them home. I've got a little sanctuary here where I keep various good examples."

What about lacking apostrophes, such as the howlingly awful "Queens Speech" logo on a major television news programme last autumn (which shall remain nameless to protect the hapless)? "Ah, now the Missing Apostrophes Agency is still to come. I find them less offensive than poor apostrophes being driven to do some job that doesn't exist. If I'm teaching I'd rather they missed the bloody things out rather than put them just anywhere," snarls Ms Palmer.

Best to change the subject, we thought. How did the apostrophe find its way on to the Internet? "We've rather adopted an Oxford graduate who's absolutely brilliant on the computer, and he and his girlfriend run their own Web pages, a news group for The Archers - you know, details about Brian and Jennifer. " What, no BSE? "I don't think they go much on agricultural issues."

Anyway, this pair are currently slaving over a hot PC in Oxford to get the errant apostrophe on to the Net.

In the meantime, Ms Palmer has no qualms about putting grammar on to computer, which is more often blamed for the death of language and grammar than the reverse.

"From what I've seen, the use of language on the Internet is . . . vibrant. Mind you, I mostly see the West Bromwich Albion Supporters' Club stuff because my husband reads it. Perhaps it's just West Bromwich Albion supporters who write in that way."

Are West Brom supporters and Archers fans more articulate on the Net than university professors?

In the old days, if university professors wanted to do a bit of rabble-rousing, the preferred method was generally a letter to The Times or some abstruse journal.

These days, it's all done with the tweak of a mouse, as Professor David Wallace, vice-chancellor of Loughborough University, can tell you.

Infuriated by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals' insufficiently outraged response to Sir Ron Dearing's suggestion about two-year degree courses, he invited comments on the Web from like-minded colleagues willing to rise in revolt.

Responses have apparently been a bit thin on the gossamer.

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