Saturday, 14 April 2012

The very first instructions I read

were the instructions for putting together the track on my Hornby clockwork train. I remember lying under the dining room table at my paternal grandparents home. It was Christmas Day and the train set was my "Christmas and birthday" present - a much wanted one. The track was short but, if you followed the instructions, you could make it into several different shapes. My father was putting the track together. I have no doubt he could have put the track together without reading the instructions but he waited for me to sound my way through each word. I was about to turn three years old. Precocious? No, probably not. I had been encouraged to read from the time I looked at books. It was expected of me. My reading at that age was not independent or fluent but yes, I was reading something. Reading instructions was important. I wanted that train to go around the track!
The first book of instructions I read was probably some sort of craft book. I cannot remember what it was. I have vague memories of one which involved folding paper and drawing half the shape of a person. You were then supposed to cut this out with scissors, open it up and have a little string of people.
I was never very good with scissors or drawing so my attempts at this were doomed to failure. I might perhaps also have been rather young to be trying because I also remember my godmother, an excellent craftswoman, taking over and making me a string of little girls and then another string of little boys. What else that book contained I do not remember.
Later there was a book which included instructions on how to make a kite - my brother and I made several kite shaped sort of kites alone. They were made from sticks we found, old newspapers and garden twine. Our father helped us to make a much more elaborate "box" kite, again following the instructions in a book.
We also made shoe box houses and garages with furniture and vehicles made from matchboxes. The instructions were all there in books.
Once I had mastered the knit stitch my grandmother gave me a "knitting book". It had instructions too. It had instructions in an abbreviated form. There was "k" for "knit" and "p" for "purl" and "tog" for "together". I do not remember having any problem with reading the instructions. I had a great many more problems actually doing what the instructions said had to be done but read them I could.
At school "reading comprehension" held no fears for me.  "What does it say?" "Who is he talking about?" "Where was she going?" "Why did Mother pick up the dog?"  I could answer any of those questions. Most of the time I saw them as pretty pointless. It was something you did because you were told to do it. You did it and got it out of the way so you could get back to the much more important business of reading some more.
I had to pick up a book at the library yesterday. While I was waiting to check it out a small boy brought his books to the counter. There is a notice there. He looked at it and then looked at his mother. "What does that say?"
       "You can read it," his mother told him. Then she was distracted by his baby sister so he and I read it together. "Please place books here with barcode facing up."
The barcode? What was a barcode? I showed him the numbers on the book. "The computer reads those and remembers the books you borrowed."
He looked at me and said,
         "Computers do not read. I can."


jeanfromcornwall said...

Of course they do not, and of course he can! Lovely.

catdownunder said...

He was quite indignant Jean!