Were 1920s schoolboys canned regularly? An annual light-hearted look at your letters


- Credit: Archant

In what has become a new year tradition, we gently have a bit of fun with some of the letters that didn't get into the paper. You know, all those moments when a finger slips on the keyboard, and we are told (as we really were) that we need 'more bobies on the beat'.

Add your own missing letter, there. But take my advice, don't google 'bobies' to see if it's a real word. Just don't.

Or how about this... 'In the 35th minute, the game was halted briefly when the referee spotted some fouling of the canine variety and the players had to wait until this was removed using a shuffle.' We've all done that.

This year, I've also learned that the Mona Lisa's smile remains an enigma. (Is it just me, or is anyone else thinking of hospitals here? OK... right. That's just me). She was painted, in fact, by a lesser-known Norfolk dabbler with the brush, as I learned in March... Leonardoo da Vinci. As for 'he is a person of statue' this was apparently meant as a compliment. But there are so, so many ways that it would work better as an insult. It's pure Oscar Wilde.

Meanwhile our dear politicians, who always get a rough time on these pages, were for the first time this year accused of 'speaking with forked tounges'. If there isn't a Dickensian character who spoke across a tea table while jabbing a pair of ornate Victorian sugar tongs in emphasis well, there really should be.

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In July, we heard that boys at a local school in the 1920s were 'canned regularly'. That could be true, of course. But history is a tricky subject. Certainly, in my distant schooldays I missed the bit where Guy Fawkes (as we were told in November) tried to overthrow Parliament by 'setting off fireworks under it'. (Makes sense. He could have snuck in some pro-Catholic laws while they were all standing at the window watching the pretty rockets.)

Of course... OK, we don't always get it right, either. In June, referring to an unfortunate dog, we wrote: 'Bob's leg has had to be amputated, but it has since been rehomed and renamed Sam.' Isn't it good to know there are kind-hearted people in the world who will take in an amputated leg? But why they'd name it 'Sam' eludes me.

And then our proof reader just stopped us publishing a page with the headline: 'Parents can benefit from alcohol and drugs'. The word 'workshop' had dropped off the end. But either headline is probably true.

That one about Sam highlights a problem that often cheers up my day: not quite thinking through what you've said. For instance... 'I was interested in reading your item regarding the blackbird caught in the mousetrap which may lose a leg. This happened to me last year.' That must have been one heck of a mousetrap...

Or then there was the plea for 'a proper joined-up railway network'. Yep, tracks that stop five miles outside each station really would be a cut too far. And one reader who had clearly sat through one too many town hall meetings involving more bickering than biscuits told us in June that 'community' means 'we all have a stake in each-other'.

Of course (top tip) if you want to boost your chances of getting a letter published, try a touch of deliberate humour. It goes a long way. And with care you can do it even with a quite serious subject, as Tom Conlin masterfully demonstrated in September.

We've rightly focused, lately, on the problem of older drivers. But people of all ages vary hugely in their fitness and ability. There's no 'one size fits all' solution, here. So Tom offered us a witty twist on the theme. He was puzzled, he said, by what was happening to him while driving. After turning 70, he started finding 'at corners the roads no longer tried to put me in the ditch', and 'for some reason, even the vehicle in front is leaving more space behind'. Nicely put.

By contrast (top tip two), sometimes writers think if they exaggerate, it helps. It doesn't. All kinds of things get called an 'abomination'. Pretty much anything is 'the death knell of democracy'. Really, you only weaken your point that way, guys.

But what about this one, on the City relegation? 'The magnitude of this catastrophe cannot be overstated'. Before anyone sneers, read the following by another contributor which we all think is magnificent: 'The problem with football is that it's not the most important thing in the world - but among all the things that aren't important, football is the most important.'

It sort of takes a bit of pondering, but it's worth it. Long may human beings be seen as the creature which takes very, very seriously things that really aren't important. Isn't that the best part of us? (OK, yes, and sometimes in the last year, it's been the worst part). I'm genuinely sorry I didn't make a note of who wrote that. Was it you? As always, I'd like to end by saying that - joking apart - we take our letters pages very seriously. They are important to our democracy.

This will be my last annual column before in May handing over the mail sack and the letters desk gerbil. (Don't ask.) It's been a privilege. Long may you remain passionate, well-informed and argumentative. And - yes - after all these years, the letters job is still an enigma. I'll sneak in a final round-up of bloopers in May but for now, I'll leave you with this.

'A faint heart never won a fare lady'. Did our reader ever find his lady ticket collector? We need to know.