How David became a smart-arse

just so stories

How do we get to be who we are?  Sometimes it can take until you’re, oh, about 60, to make some connections between things that happened when you were young, and how you are now.

My parents must have spent countless hours reading to me, though I can mostly remember only the content, not the process.  There was no TV, of course, in the 50’s.  No electronic baby-sitter in front of which to plonk the kids.

Much I what I was read would no doubt be considered imperialist, colonialist or monarchist these days.  In particular Kipling, whose work seems to have shrunk from public view except where it’s been reduced to some animated pastiche of The Jungle Book, or when we say, on Anzac Day, “Lest we forget,” with no knowledge of where those hallowed words come from.

My battered and broken-spined copy of The Just So Stories still sits on my bookshelf.  I’m not clear how long it’s been there, but mum obviously kept custody of it and I’ve retrieved it at some stage.  It’s the 1958 edition, the flyleaf tells me.

That book is the reason I have had certain phrases running through my head all of my life.  Like:

  • “Go down to the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees”
  • “I am the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me”
  • “Off ran Dingo – Yellow-Dog Dingo – always hungry, grinning like a coal-scuttle.”

Apparently Kipling was the genesis of my career as a bloody know-all.  One day during my early school years, mum was summoned to the office of Miss Bridle, the very proper headmistress of Sans Souci Infants School.

“What have you been reading this child?” she said.  “He told me that his father was a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.”  Which of course I had stolen from the ‘Stute Fish in “How the Whale Got his Throat” and parroted back to the stern headmistress.

It’s no wonder, really, that I don’t think a word has star quality unless it has at least three syllables, preferably four, having been fed “comestible”, “promontory”, “sagacity” and such-like from a very tender age.  That’s my excuse for being a smart-arse, anyway.

(image courtesy of learner.org)

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