Two memories sprung to mind as I thought on this weeks Gallery theme, black and white. In June 1975 as I said goodbye to primary school I, along with all my classmates, was presented with a dictionary. For the next 8 years until I left home it lived on my ‘big girl’s’ desk which my father got me as I moved on up to the big school. It stayed on that desk until after the birth of my son and then was moved onto the bookcase in the hall so that he, when the time came, would have easy access to its bounty.
Before that balmy June in ’75 there were two dictionaries in our childhood home, my father’s was a big tomb with a tooled green leather binding which I was constantly being sent to when I asked him how to spell a word – he couldn’t spell either. The other belonged to my mother, it was smaller bound in brown leather I seem to recall and much more worn which didn’t strike me at the time as odd, even though she was the one who could spell, for she is a wordsmith a walking talking thesaurus. (Despite my brother being only a year above me at the same school I don’t remember him getting one when he left the village primary but maybe he did, maybe his lay treasured yet unseen in his room where little sisters feared to go.) Regardless now I too had the prized treasure of my own dictionary not bound in rich deep leather but in bright red card.
Something to pour long and hard over discovering new words but chiefly for trying to find out how to spell that elusive word which didn’t quite look right, or was underscored in red in work returned to me. It is difficult to find a word you can’t spell in a dictionary which requires by the very nature of a dictoinaries dna the need to know the order of the letters in said word to find it amidst the columns of its compatriots – especially when the word you are searching for is ‘ceiling’ under ‘s’ – yes I spent a long time looking for that but must admit to never having forgotten again that ceiling starts with a ‘c’! Mostly however it was needed for the ‘i’s’ and ‘e’s’ – the rule never works when you need it to; ‘b’s’ and ‘p’s’ – didn’t know back then I had dyslexia; and double letters in words – how many ‘c’s’ in necessary, how many ‘s’s in Mississippi; and did I mean their or there, were or where, know or now the list went on and on but you get the picture, without the need for me to continue. Oh the countless hours I would have saved had computers and their spell and grammer checks been around back then.
Which brings me to my other childhood memory, that of my piano teacher who I can see clearly when I close my eyes, whose voice I can hear counting out a beat to the swing of the metronome but whose name I can’t recall at all. I swear her favourite phrase was “There is no such thing as impossible”. Well it certainly seemed to be to me as I struggled with a piece of music until in desperation I would declare it was “impossible”. Then she in turn would utter her degree and send her nimble fingers melodiously over the black and white keys a couple of octaves higher giving irrefutable evidence that, impossible, it most certainly wasn’t.
So I got my old dictionary from the shelf it now sits on mostly unused except for the occasional scrabble game dispute and on the once black and white page took the picture that heads this post – no such thing as impossible? The camera never lies, or so they say but maybe in this case it does, for those words from my childhood have echoed through my life when things seemed impossible but usually turned out to require a different approach, a bit more effort or simply a helping hand.