A week after the oven decided it was shuffling off this mortal coil or – to be more accurate – its heating element, an unfortunate late night proof-reading cocoa-meets-keyboard incident has left me angsting over the possibility of yet another unplanned pre-Christmas purchase. Having followed the protocol of unplugging, gently blotting and slowly tipping, the machine’s initial reaction didn’t auger well as it threw a typographical tantrum at the screen. 7 – usually to be relied upon for its sobriety – morphed into Y and H with abandon, while an S spawned an unruly bunch of random characters reminiscent of speech bubble swearing. The delete key behaved no better and simply added more unexpected and improbable consonants to the mix than the Szczecin phone directory.
Initially I despaired but just 12 hours later – having counselled an expert who knows about such things – normal service appeared to have resumed. Normal, that is, if your alphabet can exist without the letter L. Quite why L had been singled out when the spill (little more than a drop or two, I assure you) had spread over several of his lesser-used compadres notably # and +, I cannot say. As I weighed up whether to bite the bullet and upgrade the laptop now or to limp – no, imp – on with a borrowed a keyboard, I began to contemplate life without the twelfth character… could I get by? As one waggish chum suggested, “just use the 1 key”. Hmm… 1o1, indeed.
Woken from my slumber at 4am by an upstairs neighbour whose flat-footed gait was never meant for communal living, much less laminate flooring, I began to think more seriously about a language devoid of Ls. For one thing, there’d be no laminate flooring, no lead-footed latecomers. No leeches, no litter louts! No Lambeth council ignoring my lamp-post related emails. The lame-assed and lackadaisical would cease to be. No let-downs. No shoulda-woulda-coulda. No lectures. No loneliness, no longing, no lacking, no less than… No lumps, no leering, no lockjaw… all positive reasons thus far for sending the L to well, you can guess. Ls bells! No laptop – yikes, no laptop.
Ls routinely promise more than they can deliver and they’re greedy, too, demanding to be in pairs when one would suffice. Take Lloyds, for example… you’d have thought a bank would’ve learned to cut back on non-essentials by now. And Ls don’t just confine their ambition to the English tongue; consider the French word for armchair, “fauteuil” (“fåtölj” in Swedish and, trust me, that Nordic L isn’t doing much except reclining on its IKEA fåtölj). Don’t tell me the ‘L’ on the end of that Louis XV chair is doing anything more than being purely decorative, bumming a ride with a bunch of useful vowels. The guest at a party no-one remembers inviting who’s now insisting on being included in the group photo… and soon to be trimmed from the edge, if I have my way.
As sleep deprivation wore on, the grim realisation that I wasn’t going back to the land of nod before sunrise slowly dawned. In my languor, I reasoned Ls are the lexicographical equivalent of angelica; nice to have in the store cupboard but offering little in the way of nutritional value. Not like the E, the hardest-working letter in the English language. E’s anything but easy-going. Look down the back of any couch and I bet you’ll find an L tile from the Scrabble board, sloped off from the game. Sofa loafer, slacking again – the loser. Only good as a bridge between K and M. In fact, probably only the Dutch airline KLM would miss ’em. Possibly Luton… And of course, the late Diana Dors née Fluck.
But then my reverie turned more prosaic and I thought of what else we stood to lose: laughter, loyalty, love, light, even our lust for life itself. No ladybirds. No lithe and lissom lads and lasses lacing lilies of the valley in each others’ locks. No lap of luxury, no limoncello, no latte… No ladies who lunch. We couldn’t look or listen. No last minute deals, no last orders, no lilting lullaby. No larksong, no eyes like limpid pools, just impid poos. No linking arms in lovers lane. No L-Shaped Room with Leslie Caron. No leggy blondes, just eggy bondes. Without “l” style becomes a stye. No London. No Lima. No lemurs, ring-tailed or otherwise. No Lichtenstein – no wonder Crying Girl is crying. No lambasting, no lampooning. No Latin, no literature, no linguistic gymnastics. No lazy Sunday afternoons. No leap years. No little bit of what you fancy. Was I being too harsh on L? Maybe… Maybe it had all begun to look very different in the mourning.