Scottish railwaymen demolished a building at Drem station, east of Edinburgh, because a comma was missing on the sheet!   They were supposed to carry out minor repair work, or something, probably, but then a misplaced errant comma caused them to set fire to, and perhaps blow up, the entire station in a hail of fireworks and massive panic!   The village of Drem then descended into anarchy and looting for four weeks.   A British Rail speaksperson said something along the lines of, “Oh s***, how could we let this happen? Oh s***”.  The structure was then re-built.

All because of a comma!   I was going to condemn those boorish illiterate railway employees.   However, because they followed the words on the sheet exactly, the Queen’s lovely words, and because they carried out a demolition without double-checking or asking ANY questions, they are brave heroes!   This incident shows precisely why the Académie von anglais
is so badly needed: so that we can kidnap and re-educate the person who made this grammatical error 35 f***ing years ago!

Furthermore, I believe that we must re-demolish Drem station, as a constant memorial to the dangers of bad punctuation.

What really happened?
My account of the incident was very exaggerated. I’m sorry I had to use so much artistic licence, but Bernard Lamb, the president of the Queen’s English Society, seems to be the only person who actually remembers this news story. In this 1992 newsletter (PDF) he quoted from The Daily Telegraph (8/11/1975), but then on the “modern” QES website he stated that it also happened in 1984, with a comma missing in the exact same phrase! “Retain Drem Station, bridge”, etc. Highly unlikely.

Someone probably got mixed-up at some point between the truth and what they thought would be funny. The Herald reports a botched demolition in 1984, and repeats that the commas were to blame, but the East Lothian News doesnt mention commas. In that year, it just seems the railway’s owners were over-eager to demolish part of the unmanned station, and then discovered it was a listed building. The 1975 thing might be true though.
In any case, what kind of tedious grammar nazi doesn
t double-check something like that? Oh look, they wrote ‘Retain Drem Station bridge with no comma – I think that means they literally want me to destroy everything but the bridge! A rampage through the town! Haa haa haa. Now I can finally trash that greengrocers.

The moral of this story is: always research everything, otherwise you’ll end up demolishing things or defacing your own website with mistakes.

Drem, East Lothian


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