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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Food for Thought

What happens when you are offered food that you simply do not enjoy? My great grandmother lived on a farm. She was a Van Tonder. The family history, on her side of the family, was recorded in the family Bible. This was a large and very heavy book - or so it seemed to me when I was seven years old.

We went to visit my mother’s grandmother twice a year. There was a long sandy drive up to the farmhouse. There were about six gates to open and close. The journey was broken - and certainly not fast.

My great grandfather used to sit on the veranda and look out over a slight valley and enjoy the sight of his cattle. My great grandmother wore very formal clothes. She was also a formidable cook. My father, a kind and thoughtful man, used to fear our visits. On one occasion he had remarked that had enjoyed the pumpkin. Great grandmother duly delivered large bowlfuls of pumpkin twice a day on all subsequent visits.

This was no ordinary pumpkin. It was naturally fresh from the fields. It had the `secret’ ingredient of pepper.

As we drove up to the farm house my mother would hand to my father a brown paper bag. In today’s world we call the bag a `doggy’ bag. In those days it was referred to rather more inelegantly. It was our job as children to try to distract great grandmother while our father shovelled pepper flavoured pumpkin into the bag.

Now we all know the saying `the cat was let out of the bag’. This refers to a secret that is exposed. Can you imagine great grandmother’s feelings when the pumpkin was let out of the bag inadvertently?

So warn your dear eleven plus child to be very careful about grandparents - and even more careful about great grandparents. It has nothing to do with inheritance. It has nothing to do with family secrets. It is all to do with being very careful about what words are used.

We sometimes meet exercises in English where we have to complete or explain a range of sayings. For example:

If music be the food of love play on.

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

The first quote comes from Shakespeare - from Twelfth Night. The second from Mark Twain. How will we expect our Eleven Plus children to be able to complete quotes like the two above if they do not read? But - do we really expect a ten year old to sit down with the collected works of Twain and Shakespeare? That is too much to contemplate. Do we buy DVDs and hope the words will stick? Perhaps computer games where mad cooks chase customers around restaurants.

I suppose in the end we know that the responsibility is partly ours as parents, partly the schools as educators and partly our childrens’ drive to educate themselves. Without that final drive the dream of the Eleven Plus will remain elusive.

Oh yes - the words `Family Bible’ were mentioned earlier. Our Family Bible, on one side of the family, was in Dutch. I suppose that if your child has trouble with quotations you can simply say that it is all `Double Dutch’.

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