Frequently I cannot think of an answer to the clue in the simple crossword. I have found if I move on to the next, or possibly have a go at the three or four next words I will eventually discover a clue I can solve. My method of attack is to rip through the puzzle quickly building a frame work of additional clues for my next round. After several attempts I will have perhaps solved 50% of it. What happens next takes time but solving the puzzle is but part of my quest. Too often I know the right word but problem solving also requires correct spelling. This is difficult for a dyslexic but more of this later.
My parents weren’t interested in word puzzles. On reflection my interest began watching my grandmother attempt to turn around the fortunes of her family by solving The Herald newspaper giant puzzle. I expect because the paper gave a big prize for the correct solution these were perhaps monthly contests at best.
The trouble my grandmother had, and perhaps every other reader had, was not filling in the gaps but using the same letters in each space as the author. Several times I watched with pride as she answered each clue, wrote her name and address on the entry, stuffed it into an envelope, and had me run to the letter box to post it, only to find she had everything right but one letter. This was due to the dastardly problem of the money making effort of the paper. It had simple clues and many words had similar meanings and by electing one word before another meant a chosen vowel was not the one used by the composer and the prize was awarded to another contributor.
The School Newspaper was a monthly publication produced for schools. In the days before schools had libraries children’s books were scarce. With its production the Education Department encouraged teachers to use it as a teaching source. (On reflection it is likely one of the measures used to bring uniformity of standards across the state.) Anyway, each child at each level received one of these papers each month. Teachers dictated passages as a means of teaching spelling. Our reading was improved by class readings of the chosen stories. Most editions had excerpts from classic novels and poems written by the language masters of the times. The paper also had a crossword. I do not remember ever completing one as I found them much too hard. I did however become more exposed to word puzzles.
At school I learned I was hopeless at spelling and I was a terrible reader. After I had started school I was given one of many books as a birthday gift. In those times of privation, as I have said, kids books were uncommon. Let’s face it, after the war things were scarce and this included paper so it is no wonder books were scarce. I was put off my first book gift because I overheard the child’s mother say to mine, “It’s an old book of John’s because he’s finished with it.” Hearing this did nothing to encourage me to read and enjoy the story of The Ugly Duckling.
Such was my grasp of reading even simple sentences were hard for me to read. It took me weeks to realise an illustration in one of the books which had a sign, Office, printed of a finger board meant this was the path to the Office, and not something which read, Off ice, and made no sense at all. When I received a copy of Kidnapped, by Stephenson as a 10 year old it put me off reading for a long time as the book was close typed in point 8 or 9 sized print.
I have always been something of a contrarian. It was popular for boys to like reading books from the Biggles series by Captain WE Johns. I couldn’t compete with the boys able to devour a Biggles book in a night of two. I chose to select books from the Gimlet series by the same author, take a month or more to read them, and not have to discuss them in the playground. They had the same flavour but I saved face seeking alternatives.
Late in the afternoon it was the teacher’s practice to select a book for class reading. Perhaps it was an Enid Blyton book by the Secret Five chosen as the class serial. I hated it when it was my turn to read a page or two aloud to my classmates as I knew beforehand I would be stumped by every new word the book exposed. (Come to think of it the class probably got a bit restless whenever I read.”
Somehow, over time, I understood if I was to do better at school I had to master more words. To help me I painfully read grammar books, books on similes and antonyms, books on words of Latin and Greek Origin, pages on English words with French or German beginnings. In fact in between everything else I did I tried to read more fluently and learn to spell. For a period I wasn’t too bad. As I age I am discovering again how hard reading was for me in the beginning and crosswords are something I do to help me. The truth is I like words. I love listening to clever dialogue made up of words requiring concentration.
Perhaps my love for words came because it was in English literature classes I was exposed to them. In my earliest literature classes I did as I have learned, to skim read a passage, a chapter, a whole book for meaning. It is then once I had (and have) a grasp of the major concepts I can read and reread the book for more a more detail. I have found I too easily lose track of what the author is trying to say if I read descriptive passages too carefully, too soon.
As this little piece is on crosswords I return from my digression to again address the theme. Jennie’s mother loved doing crosswords. She not only did simple crosswords but she had mastered to clues to solving cryptic crosswords as well. Like all puzzle solvers who occasionally think aloud and say what is on their mind I found I was able to occasionally help her solve the daily simple puzzle by calling out my suggestion.
In time I found myself attempting to solve the harder puzzle in The Age but gave up and started to buy The Australian simply for the crosswords. These I found much easier. Over a year of more I got tired of the simplicity of their puzzle as I understood the nature of the question and returned to buying The Age. Many years later after giving up The Age delivery I have taken a subscription to the Australian version of The Guardian. I also attempt the Seniors Card test online. Not so often because they keep a record of how long competitors take to solve the crossword and I find it takes me much longer than most and it reminds me of the competition I liked to avoid as a boy.
I never went to school in Elwood but I was a boy when this photo was taken. I