Having a go at it
Like most of us I have, over the years, scratched deeply at the surface of a number of mind-improving activities, courses, sports, and hobbies. My leaning bookshelf, the only result of "Be Your Own Carpenter in Twenty Easy Lessons," bears testimony to the breadth and variety of the branches of the Tree of Knowledge I have endeavoured to cut off. From 'A' -- the Principles of Accountancy -- down to 'Z' -- Elements of Zoology, with pauses in between, I have tried to be what all the course advertisements referred to as "one of the select few who will be leaders in your community" or, as my brother would observe in his crude way, a "sucker for a sale."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The courses I recall best have always been those in which the word 'easy' has appeared. The Principles of Easy Automobile Maintenance ("Never be stuck/Don't leave it to luck"), The Classical Guitar Made Easy, Easy Judo for Beginners, and the languages -- German (and Italian, Portuguese, French, even -- so help me -- Japanese) in Thirteen Easy Lessons. And here I would ask why always thirteen, and why always "easy." I wish I knew.
Incidentally, the more percipient of my readers will note the Socratic touch to my selection, a combination of athleticism and aesthetics, which that gentleman said was the sign of the complete man. And I would like to add that at last I know who it was who offered him the hemlock.
If there has been any recurrent theme in my mind-bending lurch through life, it has been that of languages. I don't know why this is so but I suspect that it was of feeling of guilt engendered by my upbringing, which occurred in those days when any honest Englishman expected the world to learn his language and be proud to do it. (This thought, incidentaly, never applied to Americans who, it was understood, did their best with it and were more or less intelligible.)
Take the case of German. "German in Three Months of 13 Easy Lessons" it said on the cover. With that simplicity of character my friends have come to know and love, I assumed that the thirteen lessons were that number of hours spread over three months. And did not the preface put it that "a German child of five will already have mastered the German in this book -- why not you?" Why not, indeed, I'll tell you why not.
In the first place this child of five did not go out to work. This child of five -- to whom I rapidly took a dislike and whom I felt would be better occupied playing football or making Volkswagens or something useful -- was was not even married. He did not have to replace plugs in the wall or car at need. He paid no income tax and probably had few social obligations. Therefore, there seemed to me that he had litle else to do with his time than learn German. So be it. When it came to the point, I discovered that these thirteen lessons could be done in three months if one devoted a twenty hour day to the business. Still and all, as we say in my part of the country, I can, on demand, ask my way to the lift in German, French, Italian, Portuguese and -- a quirky sidetrack this -- in Latin. And much good has it done this Englishman over the years.