Cambridge Council's inability to understand guidance and punctuation

A Cambridge sign corrected by language campaigners
after the council's apostrophe vandalism

Well well well. This is interesting. I've being doing a bit of investigative journalism.

I recently posted about councils dropping the apostrophes from road names. I suspected the council found them to be too complicated. They had used the excuse of it being a recommendation:

"Cambridge City Council said they were only following national guidelines [...] Nick Milne, the city council officer responsible for street naming, said [...] the policy brought the council into line with the National Land and Property Gazetteer where all new street names are registered." [Source]

"Councillor Tim Ward, the Executive Councillor for planning, told the Cambridge News: “We are following national guidelines [...] If they change their view we might change our policy." [Source]

So I contacted the National Land and Property Gazetteer. It turns out it is worse than I feared - the guidance does not advise against apostophes in street names or on signs at all. The council had either completely misunderstood the guidance, or wilfully misinterpreted it. According to the email I received from the NLPG this morning:

"GeoPlace does not advise that councils include or remove punctuation in official naming or on the street name plate. Street naming and numbering is a council policy decision."

So the council's claims to be dumbing down language for some official reason are utter nonsense.



Well, that's the last 3,000+ words written on the current draft of my next novel. It felt emotional to me, tying things up, even if it will seem cheesy in the cold light of editing day. It was one of the brand new scenes, so I wasn't even 100% sure how it would go, what characters would say or do, which added to my impetus. The novel still isn't finished, since I have some scenes to re-write, new elements to introduce, a new character called Bazzy Brown-Rider to consider building in, and then at least one full re-read and close edit before it goes to an independent editor (then back to me for more re-writing) but... it's getting there. Has a shape, a start, an end, a development. Some heart, too. Many times better than the previous draft.

Many writing days are a struggle. You wring syrup from a stone, then stare at it, wishing it was better, more, brighter, cleverer. But you shouldn't judge syrup so harshly. And you occasionally get these days to make up for it, when the sweet stuff flows and and you feel that amongst all those words you've captured at least a fragment of truth about life.

Too complicated for councils

Cambridge City Council is dropping apostrophes from their street signs because they think they are too complicated. I know, it sounds like some kind of absurdist joke, but it turns out that it is true.

The thought that ran through my head when I first read that:

  • Maybe the council think apostrophes are too complicated for their residents? That would surely be an indictment of their education system, and suggest they need to run things better. More likely it is the councillors who have trouble with them.
  • They mention the emergency services in that piece, but it is a red herring - any tools the emergency services use for finding addresses should be based on free text, so a search for "scholar road" would find every variant (Scholar's Road, Scholar Road, Scholars' Road). At least with apostrophes they could then be differentiated.
  • The council's other option would be to just avoid possessives in street names. Call it Scholar Street. Queen Row. Densecouncil Lane. Then they could sidestep the whole issue, still match the guidelines, and nobody would mind. The irritation is that they use half the rules for possessives (a letter 's') but ignore the other half of the rules (the apostrophe). All that achieves is making things more confusing and ambiguous.
  • They say they only had one objection, but if they are anything like the council's I know, they will have kept the whole thing very quiet, so probably only one person knew about it before they made the decision.
I know that this is only a minor issue when compared to massive problems such as human impacts on the environment, loss of wildlife, wars, the abuse of other species (and our own); still, it doesn't mean we should therefore ignore it. Any thoughts?

Update: 27th January 2014, I did a bit of digging.

Public Lending Right

I'm now registered for Public Lending Right (PLR). It took a while to organise, since you have to send evidence to the UK PLR office and set up an online account. It now means that if my books were regularly borrowed from public libraries I would get a small annual income from it in lieu of the sales I would otherwise have (possibly) received from readers. The system is a bit clunky, and since I am a wholehearted supporter of libraries it wouldn't even bother me if a PLR system wasn't in place. I don't kid myself that I'll be in a "most borrowed" list (there's an archive of previous lists here).

The way it works: each year the PLR staff sample a selection of library authorities, analyse the loan data from the public libraries, then the authors receive payments. The authorities sampled change each time. Ideally my books would be in all UK public libraries so that there is a chance of me being included in the sampling. I had publicised my books to libraries when they came out but most library authorities tend to ignore authors, whereas if a local library member wants a book they usually order it without question, pretty quickly too! So please ask your local library to get a copy of one or both novels - all you need is the author and title (if you have the ISBN it is a bonus, and mine are listed on each book page).

If you aren't a member of your local public library, then join up - it is free, and provides you with a wealth of education and entertainment. The following links take you to details of how to join, depending on where you live in the British Isles.


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