Long ago when a small child I began to talk, the language I was speaking was English, my parents’ language was English, we lived in England. Everything was plain sailing, I enjoyed talking and listening, our main entertainment was listening to the radio, although its name at that time was the wireless, which was odd because the connection was a long wire which was plugged into the electrical system. My father liked to talk to me when he came home from work. When I was four years old father stopped coming home from work, he was called up to be a soldier. There was an awful emptiness in the house, my baby brother, my sister, my bereft mother and I missed him dreadfully. Sometimes two aunts, Josie and Vera came to keep us company. We all spoke English, it was the only language we knew. The day of the big adventure came, it was time for me to go to school. We all walked to school on the first day, I went into a very large room full of boys and girls and one big girl who was the teacher.
She asked me my name and put a mark beside it in the register. I sat down at a table and she gave me a piece of orange paper and some crayons and suggested I draw some shapes on the paper. My memory assures me I drew beautiful squares, circles and triangles. I don’t remember being taught to read, or write or count, in some magical way I learnt these new skills and they are still an endless source of delight and pleasure all these many years later. I do remember learning to play the triangle and carefully following those beautiful blue notes, sadly my musical talent came to an early end and I prefer to listen to CDs produced by very skilled musicians.
Books and toys were in very limited supply during those war-time years, the teacher read stories and nursery rhymes, we danced, we sang and we made our own music with drums, castanets and triangles. I found a best friend, a clever girl who lived in the street just across the back lane, Joyce was kind and jolly and happy to be my best’st friend. The worst thing that happened to me was mostly my own fault, I climbed on top of the iron railings in the yard, someone touched my feet and I fell and hit my head on the ground. I was taken home and put to bed. The next day I recovered and returned to school.The classroom was a sanctuary in 1943.
The next adventure was joining the free library, a note from the teacher was required stating that I would take care of any book I took home and I could in fact read. The Kayll Road library was within walking distance but it was on a very busy road tram cars and lorries went up and down, private cars were few in those days. My mother told me I must wait until my sister could go with me, as she was eighteen months younger than me I had to wait for some months before her teacher signed the required permission. At last the day came and we both got on the tram which carried us up the bank and stopped in front of the library door. We walked up the steps, there was a door to go in and another to come out. We gave the librarian our permission tickets and she gave us a small cardboard ticket and showed us the junior library room. All around the room were bookshelves full of hundreds of books and there were a couple of tables piled high with books. I was bewildered how to choose the right book. One of those early books was ‘ Milly, Molly, Mandy’ I think the rhyming words together with the pictures made it very appealing. Most books were not beautifully illustrated picture books of the type that many years later I was able to buy for my son. Some books had a number of pictures in but the story was told in the text. I have no memory of the first book I took home, I simply understood that hundreds of books were available and in time I could read every single one of them. I suppose a very similar feeling to a child of today receiving their first mobile phone, suddenly the whole world seems within reach. Myself I don’t use a mobile phone, technology a step too far, but I do have bookcases at home with books tumbling out of them.
My present passion is a more detached look at the many and varied ways the English language can be used, I’m reading, ” Mother Tongue-The English Language,” by Bill Bryson. Its witty, easy to read and full of anecdotes. Bryson is an American who lives in North Yorkshire, almost a next door neighbour, he informs me that 300 million people speak English. I am just so lucky because its the only language I speak and read, I learnt a little French and Latin at school, only scraps of words remain, “bonjour madame, merci beaucoup, je suis une vieille femme, au revoir”. Latin I know had a huge influence on the English language, the Latin for free is libre, so our word library is a derivation of this word, books can be read for free.
The digital age also means that we can hear other people speaking their own words, we can tune in to people all over the world, we can connect. Books and newspapers are still very important but we can find our own information. The views of a media baron like Rupert Murdoch are not the full story, we can find the rest of the story, the true account. We still must ask ourselves is this fake news or is it an honest, true account of the world in which we live.
I have been a teacher and a lecturer for a number of years. I am married with two sons. I'm interested drama, films, TV, books, society in general, poverty and riches and political systems.
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