The First News Event Everyone Remembers: Part 1

A look into why I learnt to read at age three


firstnews_01What a great picture. Cute. Sure, there are issues with it. The bench is smaller than those sort of things normally are. Also, a toddler seemingly pretending to read a newspaper is a little off and incredibly dishonest. Others seem to comment on the stone cold loneliness of it all.

What sticks out to this observer, is that that isolated thing is me.

Did you bring your walking boots? I know I did. Let’s take a swift stroll down Memory Street.

Is there a lonelier age than three? Sure, one and two are hard. But your parents are there to lend a hand if need be. But three? It’s about time you start making some decisions.

The first decision you need to make is what to do about that crippling loneliness. Three-years-old is categorically the hardest time in your life to network and meet new people. At other ages, you can just settle for having no mates like J.D Salinger or homeschooled kids or your Dad because being on your own when you’re old doesn’t stop you from moving around and seeing the world. Three-year-olds can’t do that because they might get kidnapped. Also, they rarely know how to top up/use Oyster Cards. They literally do not have a choice when it comes to company. Either make some friends or stay in and start ‘Howard Hughes-ing’ your urine (bottle it up).

But you don’t want to bottle your urine. Not again. So, where are you, the average three-year-old, supposed to find these mates? Unless you’re a twin, there’s no ready-made companion waiting there for you. Older siblings don’t want to hangout with you. You don’t go to school. Barely anyone will employ you. Your sister is a baby, so you can’t be mates with her without looking like a big idiot. Your cousins are probably lame. People like to make friends online but at your young age, you’re not 100% on how to turn on the P.C.computerbaby

A lot of three-year-olds like to go down the dog route. You just make friends with a dog, usually your own – and then you’re all set. But what if your Mum’s allergic?

It hits you that the only people around the house – pretty much the whole world to you – are your parents and their friends.

But do they want to hang out with a three-year-old? Not if they can help it.

You guys just have nothing in common. They’re not willing to compromise. They don’t want to do the things you want to do and have no desire to get into your interests and hobbies. They have absolutely no intention of getting all the pots and pans out of the low cupboard and then start throwing them around with you. They don’t even pretend to want to wake up early with you and spend Tuesday watching Matilda eight times in a row.

Adults are notoriously stubborn. They’re not going to change their ways so you’ve got to change yours to fit in with them and their lifestyle. When I was three, I remember my Mum and Dad always complained about their commute into work. Roughly, it took up about 80-85% of their daily conversation so of course, I thought, gotta get in on that.

This didn’t work. I was unemployed at that point so I was struggling to relate. I had to find something other than a job to commute to. I decided to chuck on a tie, download Kiddymapper (sorry), jump on the train and commute to my Nans. I did it properly and everything: wore a nice suit but with the dirtiest, rattiest old trainers – fully intending to change into my dress shoes the second I got to my Nans. But no, it didn’t work. Bloody kidnapped about a minute into it. Sure, the kidnapper was a police officer and all he did was immediately take me back to my Mum but still. Kidnapped.

I knew there had to be other ways to relate to my parents and their friends.

I started suggesting which wines could be paired with various meals. I’ll never forget the 45-second long look of pure indignation my Uncle Jimmy gave me after I suggested he let the Shiraz breath for a minute and save it so we can pair it with Fish Fingers later.  abe

I thought maybe I should back off of giving advice for a little while. Back then, I was a huge (President) Abraham Lincoln fan so I thought I should just retain a quiet dignity and take his advice: ‘Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt’. 

This didn’t work. It turns out that there’s no such thing of retaining a quiet dignity as a three-year-old. Adults just think something’s wrong with you if you’ve been chatting up a storm for two years and then all of a sudden stop.

I decided maybe I should just start sounding more intelligent. Surely, that would fool them. If they thought I was of adult intelligence and not of three-year-old intelligence, they’d love to be my friend!

First off, I needed to sort out my vocabulary. I scrubbed the filthy obscenities from my vernacular and decided to start using smarter sounding words like ‘finagle’ and ‘panacea’. This didn’t go well. A child with a large vocabulary starts making people feel scared and confused and then angry.

I was beginning to tire of the constant reinvention, but there were still further alternatives. The next logical step was to start using my middle initial. It takes little-to-no effort to seem smart if your name is intelligent sounding.

I started going by Daniel G. Lee. For one, it’s classy because it is. Secondly, so many great notable figures do it so I knew if it worked for them, it would work for me. lists

This was one of many lists but, for now, I’ll post just the one. The middle initial had the desired effect whilst using it in legal documents but everyone seemed to interpret it as pretentious in day-to-day situations.

Another idea was to just start appearing more intelligent physically. Glasses were the best short-term option but my problem was, I didn’t need them. My vision was perfect. Too perfect, if anything. No self-respecting optician was ever going to prescribe me a set of specs: I could see for miles. I needed to get poor vision and I needed it immediately. Luckily for me, my parents had told me exactly how to do this. For years, they’d say things like ‘don’t look at the sun you big jerk, you’ll go blind’. They’d set me up for the win when they thought I’d lose.

So I quickly got into the habit of popping out to the back garden every now and then just to stare at the sun. Absolutely foolproof. In no time, I’d be a glasses-wearer, appear wildly intelligent, and have more friends than I could’ve ever dreamed.

This really went wrong. My Mum started thinking I was worshipping a Sun God so made me stay in my room and read pretty questionable Christian propaganda which really didn’t have much to do with anything.

2048As far as propaganda goes, it wasn’t my favourite. But it was through this blast of misinformation that I developed the ability to read dramatically early.

So I started reading the paper. Every Sunday from age 3-5, I’d take the Observer. That’s what we’d call reading the newspaper back then.

I finally found something that worked. This newfound ability to keep up with current affairs meant I was always involved. No longer was I confused at dinner parties. I learnt earlier to not be too prematurely verbose so I’d just chip in every once in awhile with an agreement.

Modern etiquette stated that I shouldn’t be running the conversation but, being privy to the information it was based around, that was the true feeling of involvement.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of what I read in the paper because children have notoriously bad memories. I stopped reading the paper when I got to school because I realised throwing rocks at a fence with other five-year-olds was more fun than chatting about John Major with adults.

This made me think, what is the first news event I remember happening? When do we become aware of major stories or shifts in political climate? I asked 100 people. That AND MORE will be in Part Two.


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