THE CHILD WHO LOVED LANGUAGE
It will surprise no-one who knows me that I was loquacious from a very early age. I began to speak fluently from the age of two, and thus began my lifelong love affair with language.
Almost as soon as I could form sentences, I began to play with words, fascinated by their sound and the way they felt in my mouth.
I recall my obsession with the word ‘supper’. To my childish mind, it sounded hilarious, and I would repeat it often before subsiding in gales of laughter. My parents would laugh in sympathy, despite their inability to understand exactly why I found the word so amusing.
I was a rather peculiar child.
Things became rather more interesting, not to mention uncomfortable, for my parents when I discovered an ability to rhyme. I would have been about three years old, and would wander about the house, chatting happily to myself and finding as many words to rhyme as my limited vocabulary would permit. When I ran out of words, I’d simply invent them… and so it was that I inadvertently stumbled on the most forbidden word of all.
“Luck!” I exclaimed excitedly. (It was another word I loved and even invented an invisible friend of that name.) ‘Truck!’ I continued, concentrating fiercely. ‘Puck!’ I invented, unaware that medieval English folklore had forestalled me.
You can see where I’m heading with this story.
Yes, the inevitable occurred, and my parents sat me down and, with great solemnity, suggested that this was ‘not a very nice word’. These days, nobody would bat the proverbial eyelid, but back then, when dinosaurs prowled the earth, swearing was strictly verboten, especially by infants.
Disappointed to be thwarted in my exploration of this fascinating new word, I continued its use, mainly because I thought it sounded very quaint. My mother almost expired when I trotted it out for one of the neighbours, asking whether she didn’t agree that it sounded cute. Poor Mama explained my peculiar hobby, but apparently was left with the feeling that the neighbour hadn’t bought her version of the tale.
I don’t recall the outcome from my perspective, but I imagine she repeated, with a tad more emphasis, the need to find a new word …
… which I did. ‘Pavilion’ became the word of the day. I was besotted with it to the degree that I yearned to change my name. It was a name for a princess, the heroine of a fairy tale! I saw it all in my mind’s eye: Pavilion would dance through the woods in a diaphanous white gown with pale blue lining, her long tresses flying in the breeze. Oh! To be that glorious creature blessed with such a romantic name! My dreams were dashed when it was explained to me that a pavilion was a type of building. I felt aggrieved, presumably annoyed that such a wondrous word should be wasted on something as prosaic as an architectural structure.
Nothing daunted, I continued to explore the beauty of the English language. Although we had none in Australia, I loved the idea of bluebirds. By this time, at age four, I had begun to make up tunes, so I composed a little song with the lyrics:
Bluebird, get out of my way, Bluebird, get out of my way, Bluebird, get out of my way, I’m saying Bluebird! Bluebird! Bluebird! Get out of my way!
Mozart I was not, but this little ditty afforded me much enjoyment. The response of the obstructive bluebird is, to this day, unknown.
The love affair with language continued throughout my school years. In fifth grade, I wrote poetry after the style of A.B. Paterson and stories which, in retrospect, were hilarious for their naivety. High school honed my skills, but subsequent events derailed my life, and my creative writing languished, while other priorities consumed my time and energy. My affection for English remained, but the playfulness and the joy found no outlet.
These days, I’m grateful that life has come full circle. Many decades down the track, I play with language once more. I write novels and poetry, captivated by the music of words and their capacity to evoke imagery and emotion.
Perhaps, someday, I shall write my magnum opus, including the elements of my childhood play in one, glorious, punk, literary oeuvre.