Set in stone

Written by John

We’ve been asked to proofread some odd things over the years – there was a time when balloons came up quite a bit. You had to take inflation into account. And last week brought another first: the text for a stone plinth.

The task is essentially the same as with other work, as is the concentration that goes into it, but at the back of your mind is always the thought of how easy or otherwise it would be to change the finished product. A website – a bit annoying, but easy enough to do a few tweaks. Print – as long as no one has pressed the button, you can make changes pretty much up to the wire, though at a cost. But a stone plinth – I’m not up with the technology, but I imagine it’s ‘start again’ time. I like to think of craftsmen and women chiselling away for hours on end, though maybe these days it’s all done with computers and lasers or some such: either way, there’s no getting away from the fact that mistakes aren’t easily rectifiable.

By chance, our new commission coincided with the news that the town mayor of Tidworth in Wiltshire had decided to leave their new war memorial blank, omitting the names in case they made mistakes. “We’ve done an awful lot of work looking into the names but there’s a lot of obscurity and we don’t want to get it wrong,” he’s quoted as saying. You can understand their nervousness, but not to have a go seems like ducking the issue, and the result (albeit a mock-up) looks very odd, and a bit spooky, at least to my eyes.

This clearly isn’t so much a proofreading issue as one to do with the basic information, but it does seem like the opposite of ‘publish and be damned’ – more ‘don’t publish and we won’t be damned’. I rather hope that, in time, they can come up with as accurate a list of names as is possible, and that then someone comes along with a chisel to put things right.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants any monumental masonry proofread we’re up for it. And balloons.