'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever' wrote John Keats, and so did my dear old Nan, in neat fountain pen handwriting across the page in my little autograph book. It was a pocket sized volume with embossed lettering on its cover and each page was a different colour. Although mostly scrawled in by my eight-year-old school chums it did boast a salutation from a proper famous person - well, he was in my eyes - H E Todd, author of the 'Bobby Brewster' books. He'd visited my school and read us some of his stories, many of which I already knew from featuring on 'Jackanory' in around 1970. I adored Bobby Brewster and his ability to telephone his tummy when he was hungry (or something like that - I seem to remember he could translate its gurgles and rumbles into requests for sardine sandwiches, but I might be wrong).
Another signature which seemed important at the time was that of the woman from the Puffin Club who had been at the one and only members' event I ever went to, a Summer fancy dress party in Hatfield Broad Oak to which I wore a rather hot home-made caterpillar costume. I mean 'hot' in the temperature sense, of course... All I gathered about her was that she was called Jane, so if she ever went on to scale great literary heights, or to feature on a special Puffin Club edition of 'Family Fortunes' (unlikely, I know) I'd be none the wiser.
My favourite autograph, however, was from someone closer to home. With a twinkle in her eye my Mum wrote this on a pastel blue page above her name:
YY U R
YY U B
I C U R
I C U R
YY 4 Me
She'd learned it when she was a schoolgirl, back in the 1930s or '40s, and when she carefully scribed it in my little book I loved it so much I never forgot it. Our familiarity with text-speak makes it quicker to decipher now than when I first saw it, but back then it looked like a curiously puzzling riddle. Once solved, it seemed a perfect mix of ingenious and yet simultaneously simple humour. Too wise, indeed.
In an era when it's commonplace to bemoan the increasing use of economical spellings and linguistic short-cuts it'd be easy to assume that they're a recent thing and a threat to our language, but I don't think so. In 1867 a poem by Charles C Bombaugh was published (labelled as 'emblematic poetry' and thought of as very clever); here's one of its verses:
He says he loves U 2 X S
U R virtuous and Y's
In X L N C U X L
All others in his i's
Then, of course, there was Slade...
Mama Weer All Crazee Now
... and did somebody mention Prince?