on choosing the theme for this years Advent I needed a subject broad enough to fill a months worth of posts, while at the same time being diverse enough to be interesting. Here you will read of hilarious attempts to master riding a bike and on teaching a pal to swim, alongside the bigger lessons on life and death. I needed a starting point, and it seemed right that in an advent of life’s lessons learned I should begin with my earliest memories of learning.
For this I am right back in my family home, I am young, not yet at school and I am interested in lots of things. The days had a pattern to them, meal times were fixed, the food predictable and leisure time was playing with dolls. The highlight of the day was always the bedtime story, when Mum would read, usually poems or short stories to me. I had a book of 365 stories and verses, one for every day of the year, and I loved to listen to each and every one.
I can put myself right back to those days, sitting with Mum and looking at the pages as she read the tales out loud. I remember being fascinated that the patterns on the page next to the pictures related to words and sounds. I found myself understanding more and more of the words and I became hungry for more. I can see myself now, picking up Dad’s Daily Mirror and picking out the patterns I understood. I can remember him saying to Mum, that she had me reading the newspaper! Dad was so happy about this, he hadn’t gone to school very much and always struggled with the written word. Mum tapped into my interest and began to explain the words to me, and quickly I could understand.
One Christmas, I think I was about five or six, my baby sister was still a baby for sure, I received a dictionary in my stocking. This was not a children’s dictionary with pictures but a proper grown up dictionary full of words and their meaning. I have a clear picture of me sitting on the floor beside the French windows in our living room, in awe of this little book, containing all the words I thought I would ever need. I spent hours reading from it, working out connections between words and finding new words. I also remember my Uncle explaining to me about alphabetical order and showing me how to find words quickly.
At the time I was not aware that this was slightly unusual for a five-year-old child. To me it was exciting, then and now words were important to me. It was when I arrived in school, aged five years and three months, that I discovered that not all my peers were able to read.
I was sad to only spend a couple of months in the baby class, the teachers telling Mum I was already a good reader and my writing was coming along nicely too. Thanks to my dictionary, my spelling was acceptable. I can remember leaving school one day delightedly telling Mum I had ten out of ten for spellings, one of the words I had learned was promenade, I think it was the longest word I had learned so far. They moved me into the next class up, and there I stayed, I remember missing out on the play house in the ‘baby’ class.
By now my love of the written word was so firmly embedded in me, there was nothing better I could do than open a new book. One morning I came into the living room to a pile of books left on the table. I still don’t know who gave them to me, but this was the day I discovered reading for pure pleasure. Now We are Six, a book I loved because I was six years old and thought it had been written for me, together with the House at Pooh Corner, became firm favourites. These were the first books I read to myself, and the beginning of a lifetime of joy in the printed word.
Later, trips to the Children’s Library, a magical place set in a large house with huge windows looking out onto a park, became the highlight of the week. There I could choose from so many different books, and I have never looked back. I have read every kind of fiction and a fair bit of fact. Learning to love reading and later writing, has been such a precious gift to me for my whole life long. Over fifty years of being able to access information, escape into fiction and put my thoughts onto a page, a lifetime of learning began here. It seems a good place as any to begin this years Advent.