How Powerful is Punctuation? part 1

how powerful is punctuation

Two years ago I was involved in a serious car crash abroad. This weekend is the two year anniversary. Over the next two days I will tell the story.

I have believed that grammar and punctuation are important, but I must confess to being generally confused about when and where to use some of the more advanced punctuation, like for example a semicolon. I mean, when really was the last time you used one, or for that matter saw one?

With a full stop I feel you are on much safer ground. They signal an end, an end of a sentence: the rounding off of an idea before the start of a new thought. What possible harm could such a simple little dot on a page cause? So small and insignificant a tiny blot of ink, yet so powerful! Perhaps strong enough even to halt a person in their tracks and send life shifting out of control? Perhaps powerful enough to wrestle you to the floor and demand that you finish off its thought before the new one starts?

Really you say? Have I not exaggerated? Surely no such dot, such punctuation mark could be so powerful?

I would have to disagree and say I met such a mark on an innocuous page of directions one summer’s day in August of 2014. The directions put us on the wrong road and within minute’s life spiralled down a path we neither planned nor wished to choose.

On the day in question, Chris and I had set out from Vienna to drive in our English car to Croatia. The journey for the most part was uneventful, down past Graz and into Slovenia. We drove by the quaint town of Putij with its White Castle proudly guarding the land around it. We crossed the border into Croatia and headed first for Zagreb and then Karlovac. Both places, by the end of Friday, would hold a different perspective in our thoughts, than just towns and cities we had passed.

The plan, once business was over, had been to spend a few days near the famed Plitvice Lakes. When the opportunity to visit Croatia had first begun to crystallise in our minds, it was a place we were recommended to go. The guided book photographs only solidified our decision to spend time there. So we eagerly booked ourselves into a little pension for two days within striking distance of the park entrance.

However for some reason that morning, the GPS stubbornly refused to pinpoint the exact location we were headed too. Perhaps it knew something, we didn’t? Consequently twenty minutes out from our  destination, I was forced to pull out the written directions on the paper booking form. I read them very carefully. It was there on the piece of paper, that I met ‘the full stop’. The village where we were staying had a large hotel and one junction with a left turn. Full stop. I read carefully again, after the left turn, we needed to turn left at the fourth tarmac road.

We reached the village, saw the hotel as instructed and turned left. The first road on the left was a gravel road. Oh dear! Does that count as tarmac or not? We pressed on, carefully counting roads, until we realised we had now left the village and entered the next. “This is not right” Chris said and he moved to turn the car round and head back down the road we had just travelled. “Look!” He said pointing, “There is the village sign, we’ve come too far” he paused, then said, “This is better!” I clearly remember looking at the village sign.

Meters ahead of us was a large tourist coach. We hit head on!

Full stop!

I don’t remember the impact. I remember suddenly seeing the coach incredibly close and for that few moments before we hit, wondering how it had got so close and we had not seen it! Even now, it is a sobering consideration, that on a quiet, spacious country road, we did not see a large bus.

The world exploded, both internally and externally. I stumbled out of car and led on the grass, confused, dazed and looking for Chris. My side was in agony! I was aware that people were getting off the coach. A kind lady held up a blanket to shield me from the strong sun. Chris was now led next to me. Panicking, I did not want to let him go. I remember seeing the state of the car, steam poured from the engine, the bonnet crumpled and bent, while the air bags hung down like a panting dog’s tongue. For an insane moment I wondered how long it was going to take to get the car fixed, so we could carry on without missing too much.

Seconds later Chris was up on his feet. His adrenalin and training kicked in. He collected important personal things from the car – phones, money, passports, and chargers. The rest of our belongings stayed in the dying hiss of our car in the company of strangers. We never saw it again. It was written off by the insurance company and as far as we know never left Croatia. This could so easily have been us. However our journey still had more dramatic turns to take.

Part 2 tomorrow


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