It’s funny what turns up on the library shelves in the writing retreat. I am about to invest in a Kindle and I wonder whether that will spell the end of me buying books as objects. There’s a part of me that thinks that may well be the case. I already use the internet for most of my research and I just wonder what the future will be. Still, in this piece I want to focus on the past.

In 1971 I began to learn Latin, as it turned out in three years I learned virtually nothing- you could blame teachers, you could blame a schoolgirl who had little interest beyond rock music or you could blame the choice of grammar book we were forced to work through.

The reference to the library is because this self-same book resides on a shelf with ‘Teach Yourself Latin, Ecce Romani and A Latin English dictionary’ which makes me smile. The Approach to Latin by Paterson and Macnaughton First Part was an horrific publication. Its colour was a washed out orange and it was a typical’ Times New Roman, I am an academic and traditional text’ kind of publication. Every edition I ever saw had been subjected to school girl  graffiti and would then  read: ‘The Approach To Eating’ which made it much more palatable.

There was nothing about this book which made learning language vaguely interesting. It had the same cachet as my maths text book and every page had a nasty little table entitled ‘First Conjugation’ or ‘Third Declension’. I am not a memoriser; I hated learning by rote, it really isn’t my thing. I always wanted to know why, or who or what was the point? I would always be told, ‘Look it just is, don’t question it, just learn it.’ This was the kiss of death for most of my school subjects.

So, page 5 we are on Exercise 1B. Why? Oh Why? Oh why?

We praise

They love

You (pl) praise

She praises

You (pl) love

He overcomes

You (s) overcome

It overcomes

You(s) are loving

She is overcoming.

I think this would make a great plot line for a steamy novel, which was the kind of thing we were writing at the back of the class at the time we should have been learning The 2nd Declension Continued.

The sentences that required translation were interesting too

  • I shall not send my son to school with dirty shoes
  • Is the island large, farmer?
  • Why do you tell a long story, poet?
  • Come! We shall hurry home; for the master is angry
  • Love of his native country occupied the soldier’s mind

And so on ad infinitum! Each book, as it was handed back at the end of the school year had its spine broken. The reason? Well, it meant all the answers to the test exercises were easily accessible for the weekly tests which were the bane of my life. I finally managed 7% in the final exam when I was 14 and gave it up as a bad lot.

So, why do I now have my own copy? Why are there exercise books with my writing that I pick up periodically and continue to do? Because this was such a wasted opportunity I kick myself and I must apologise to my three Latin teachers: Miss Nye, Miss Scullion and Miss Fosse for not realising what I was being offered at the time. Better late than never methinks.

So, now I am capable of writing:

‘Iuvenalis poeta Romanus, mentem sanam in corpore sano desiderabat.’ *

which must mean my life is complete! Now, where was I? ‘ The citizens are counting the warships.’ That is bound ot come in useful at some point.

*Juvenal, the Roman poet, used to long for a healthy mind in a healthy body.

 I wonder if he ever achieved it?

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