Let me tell you about being a girl. I grew up in a red weatherboard house built into a hill. Through the workshop was a door that opened into a clayish cavern. Perhaps there was a sort of nook where a few bottles of wine were stored. I am almost certain there were lengths of timber. It was cool and undulating.
The workshop itself had two mounted vices. One of them blue. I think I can remember the exact patches where it had worn through to a mottled grey. But more than the physical things, the weighty presence of those vices, I can remember learning the other meaning of the word vice. The delight it afforded me. A word that gripped two meanings so I could never again enter the workshop without thinking of gambling or gluttony. Still I never hear of a a sinful vice without entering that workshop which no longer exists. Without noting the exact way sunlight is absorbed by the sawdust on the floor.
The packet of the word. Like the 'choice' of my last post, then later the 'wicked'. My 11 year old friends and I realising with astonishment that we'd never noticed that wind as in up a road and wind as in a breeze were the same word. For if anything was my thing as a child it was words. Not that I reflected on it at the time. Quite frankly I was too busy reading.
Upstairs in our house was a balcony. An open air room with a view out to the city and the Southern Alps. All summer my best friend Anna and I would lie on the balcony bed in the sun and read. There was a deep pale wooden bookshelf on the balcony that had in its lower shelves a complete set of school journals from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. Anna and I would read books side by side silently to ourselves and, when we got bored with that, we would find a play in one of the journals and act out the plays taking half the characters each. Carefully trying to balance it so we did not end up in lengthy dialogue with ourselves.
We would clamber over the balcony ledge to lie on the tin roof of the front porch. It was so hot we needed towels and we would take pillows. It was strictly forbidden and extremely comfortable.
En masse, outside of an institution, School Journals became something new. They were a thing, and our thing. They were funny. They were irreverent like lots of 1960s and 1970s kid's writing often was. They took the business of being a child seriously but they also sent it up. The writing usually respected us and put us in charge. It wasn't earnest. Anna and I would have left the journals on the shelf if they were. They were full of places I knew and people of a type I recognised. When my mother talked about (or I read) about New Zealand kids having no literature that reflected them it felt quaint. I loved a lot of English books, complete with their wintery Christmas and odd turns of phrase, but it was exotic. It wasn't my world.
I was brimming with New Zealand poems and plays, stories and pictures, and an understanding of place that I took entirely for granted. The journals were often beautiful to look at. Colourful, and original. One of my favourite presents recently was a set of cards of School Journal covers. This was an aesthetic that shaped me. They couldn't have been produced anywhere else, they were engaged unselfconciously with the cultures of New Zealand.
I think now the playfulness of the School Journal made language accessible. Not just in the sense of understanding what the words meant, but in showcasing all the different things language could be and do. That it was a friendly thing that one could read but also write. That it belonged to us as children, and we belonged to language. That reading and writing, and invented story were as much a part of us as the sun on the tin roof, or sneakily acquired sugar sandwiches, or the school swimming pool. The gleeful Saturday afternoon noise of it, the wet concrete, the slats and shade in the changing shed.
*This post is for Esme. May she always have good things to read and a patch of sun to read them in.
(C) Copyright 2012, Mrs Loolupants, All Rights Reserved.