The other evening, I called an emergency meeting of the Really Creative Creative Directors Club of Singapore, requesting that, as I had a very urgent matter to discuss, everyone should do their very best to attend unless they forgot, had something better to do or, at the last minute, just couldn't be bothered. No other excuses, I stressed, would be even remotely acceptable. It's important. There's a war going on and somehow, some way, we have to win it.
Well, the first to arrive was Mr. Gordon, who asked, as you might: 'What war?'
'A battle-of-the-departments type war,' I replied, adding: 'One of those wars that begins with a niggle, escalates, and can absolutely destroy a working relationship.'
'By "niggle",' queried Mr. Gordon, 'do you mean realising you hate each other, should never be working together in the first place and wishing they were dead? Will there be tips on undetectable poisons and tampering with their car brakes?'
I said: 'Honestly, Mr. Gordon, we did that last week. Didn't you attend?'
He said not. He meant to, he said, but on that day he put his back out and then his left leg fell off - 'in Brewerkz, can you imagine! But they did carry it out to the bike for me.’
I got a bit cross about this, I admit. 'Mr. Gordon,' I said. 'Unless you forgot, you had something better to do or, at the last minute, simply could not be bothered, I don't want to hear it. I won't be fobbed off with such feeble reasons for not attending.'
He rejoined with: 'Oh, and I couldn't be bothered.'
I said: 'That was better. Thank you, Mr. Gordon. That will be all. You may hop to your seat now.'
And so, as the others had arrived, the meeting could begin. 'Ladies and Gentlemen,' I said, 'this spring, what has preoccupied you for much of the time? Has it been timesheets?'
'No,' everyone cried. 'Has it been cost estimates?' 'No,' everyone cried. 'Has it been forecasting revenue and working out the next quarter’s budget?'
'Get a life!' everyone cried. 'Has it been leaving things at the bottom of your in-tray to do later and then never doing them?' 'Yes, yes, yes!' everyone cried. 'OK, apart from leaving things at the bottom of the in-tray to do later but never doing them, have you also been writing and art directing stuff?'
'Well, yes, a bit!' everyone cried. I said: 'Ladies and Gentlemen, if this war - and it is war, not a game - in your office is anything like the one in mine, I'm guessing it goes like this, and always goes like this:
1) You, who occasionally make a stab at work, put down the gin and Hello! and write an ad, using a comma in the headline
2) A person of a suity nature then takes it out
3) You put it back in
4) They take it back out
'And so on, until the very end of time itself. And is it any fun, Ladies and Gentlemen? Is it amusing in any way? No. Plus, if I'm guessing right, and I think I am, it can get dirty. Very dirty.
'On occasion, you may even meet in the studio while one is in-ing and the other is out-ing. This, of course, can result in a fist fight, so, if you want my advice, always come prepared with, for example, a Doberman and a scalpel. Alternatively, broken bottles, knuckledusters and old D&AD annuals are suitable.'
'Yippee,' exclaimed Ms Dickinson. 'Good show!'
I pressed on: 'Further, you must be alert to cheating at all times. They may, for example, not take it out after you have put it back in, which you may think means you have won.'
'Does that mean we can't use the broken bottles, knuckledusters or old D&AD annuals?' interrupted Mr. Tan.
'No way,' I said, 'because, what you will discover, is that they have left the comma in the headline but THEY HAVE GONE AND TAKEN EACH AND EVERY APOSTROPHE OUT!'
'The creep,' yelled the other Mr. Tan. 'The sneaky little creep! Let me at them with the scalpel!'
'You may, of course, choose to go the non-violent route and give them the facts,' I said. 'You may tell them to read Fowler, you may then wish to conclude with: "It's a grammatical fact, matey. Get over it. The comma is in and the apostrophes stay."
'But will they accept this? No, Ladies and Gentlemen, they will not.’
I finished on a heartfelt plea to the meeting: 'Revered Members, how are we to win this war?'
'Undetectable poisons and tampering with their car brakes?' suggested Mr. Gordon, 'or even detectable poisons, what the hell?'
We considered Mr. Gordon's suggestion, and discussed whether we thought he might be being a bit hasty, but then concluded: no.
It's the only way. It's not nice, we accept, but this is war. And this is what can happen when you play havoc with a person’s punctuation.