Saturday, 31 July 2010

In praise of small things- part one - playing with letters

Some time ago, my beloved accepted the honour of a meme, passed on to him by Mr London Street. Over the last few weeks he's written a fantastic series of posts about things that never fail to make him smile. The series culminated in a seriously awesome post - 'Messing with my hair' - if you haven't already read it, please do - you may laugh, you may shake your head in disbelief, you may even understand a little more about the strange man I happen to love.
Philip has now passed the meme on to seven other bloggers and, with what I'd like to think was a mixture of love and indulgence rather than simple nepotism, he included me among the seven. 
I'm a little daunted at the idea of following in the footsteps of MLS and my domesticated bohemian, very fine writers both, but there aren't many rules attached - I can write about seven things I like or love, seven things that make me smile, or actually any seven things of my choice, which ought to give me plenty to play with. And I've never been one to wimp out of a challenge. 
We live in a small house, in a small village. I like this small world, being here makes me smile; so I've chosen to write my series about seven other small things that also make me happy. 

In praise of small things - part one - playing with letters

From its title, you might well think that this is a post written in admiration of epistolary efforts. But no, when I talk of playing with letters, I really mean playing. With letters.
I was quite young when I first learned to read, when I understood the magic world that tiny shapes on the page would open up for me. Letters were a code, with a meaning, and I'd unlocked the code. It was the first time I ever felt clever. I loved to read - anything and everything. My Saturday morning wasn't complete unless it included a trip to the children's library in West Norwood and an hour spent choosing the three books I'd be allowed to take home that week.
But I wasn't only fascinated by letters that made words. I loved the letters themselves. 
With a stroke of genius that I have only recently come to appreciate, my Dad invented a series of games that cost next to nothing and involved little effort on his part, but they kept me occupied for hours.
Probably the simplest one was colouring in the letters on an old sheet of newspaper. Any letter that had a closed loop had to be coloured in. 'O's were best - so I'd always do them first, then 'p's and 'd's before the smaller hoops of 'e's and 'a's. Each different letter had to be in a different colour. It was painstaking work - I had to stay inside the circles so the letters were still distinguishable - no mean feat with newsprint, but it looked great when I was finished - my own colour code.
Another favourite with newspaper stories was the 'sausage and mash' game. This was great because it meant Dad would read to us. He'd choose a column from the Telegraph - serious world news was the best - but instead of reading it straight, he'd substitute 'sausages' for every word that began with an 's' and 'mash' for every word that started with an 'm'. Complete nonsense, but almost impossible not to giggle. Go on - try it. It puts a great perspective on politics.
As I grew older the letter games were more challenging - we became quite accomplished at finding over a hundred short words from a single longer one (ok, we were allowed 2-letter words). As we got better at it, we were allowed to set the words - of course we wanted them to be as long as possible - which meant scouring through a dictionary. And although I could never get Dad to accept that wonderful word from Mary Poppins - Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - it was an inspired way to expand our vocabulary. Literally. 
Almost my first foray into poetry was with acrostic poems - I loved that the first letter of each line was so important - that I could read something in the lines across and the first letters down. I learnt to do anagrams, and crosswords, and then came Scrabble. All those letter tiles, each with a value, and an infinite number of uses; a criss-cross pattern of interlocking words. I'm horribly competitive - I always want to win, but I get just as much pleasure from dreaming up the longest words I can, or from changing the meaning of a word on the board by just adding a letter or two. Even now, no trip to see my Mum is complete without a game of Scrabble. 
Several years ago I set up an after-school homework club on an estate in one of the less affluent parts of London. The kids bought along the homework they'd been given at school and after an hour or so we'd finish with a game. I had all sorts of things prepared beforehand, but the one they always wanted was the simple game I'd played as a child - choosing a letter of the alphabet, for which each of them had to think of an animal, a country, a boy's name, a girl's name and an article of clothing - all beginning with the chosen letter. Week after week they pleaded for the alphabet game.
I recently realised another lasting impact when I heard a comment about names spelled backwards - immediately and with no hesitation, I could remember my own name in reverse and hear my Dad calling me it - Norahs Snikrep. 
I sometimes think my desire to write is just an excuse to keep on playing with letters.


Pat said...

Sounds like a good start in life for a writer.

Mr London Street said...

What an absolutely terrific start to this sequence. I thoroughly enjoyed this and wish my dad had played the sausage and mash game instead of tackling the Telegraph crossword in isolation, surrounded by a fug of cigarette smoke.

Charlie said...

Tour love of letters: an auspicious beginning, Sharon.

Do you have the newer, expanded edition of Scrabble for larger words, more letters, and more spaces?

Philip said...

You were very lucky to have the father you did. He's very present in you. Countdown anyone?

DPR said...

I'm going to try and introduce the sausage and mash game in the crown. I've always felt left out when the 'intellects' do the telegraph crossword as I just don't get it. This will allow me to join in and feel less lonely.