Odd ideas arise in childhood years. I do not remember our school teacher ever reading Aesop’s fables, but the stories must have been part of the education for them to have become so familiar. We mustn’t have been told anything about Aesop himself because in my mind Aesop was a black American who sat in a rocking chair on a verandah of a wooden house, dressed in dark trousers with braces and a white collarless shirt. (The American word for “braces” creates altogether the wrong image!) The discovery years later that Aesop was Greek and lived six centuries BC shattered the picture I had cherished for so long.
Where did the picture come from? Was there a children’s television programme where this grandfatherly figure sat and told the fables? It wouldn’t seem likely. Children’s programmes were confined to “Children’s Hour”, one hour of broadcast time, though this did stretch to an hour and a half. The programmes were very familiar and the only storytelling I remember was Jackanory. At some point an impression was created that was to last for years.
If Aesop’s Fables were told by an American, then my impression of the United States came from Sesame Street, it was a fun place to be, even if they seemed to take a long time to learn the letters and numbers. Sesame Street wasn’t just fun, it was a safe place. They sat on the steps of that big old inner city house and there was no danger. Vietnam and all the other unpleasantries did not intrude into a world of laughter and song.
A tiny piece of a picture does not always reflect the whole canvas; impressions can be wrong and wrong impressions can stay with us for years.
Passing a group of very drunken Scottish rugby supporters, dressed in rugby shirts and dark green kilts, in Dublin last evening, I watched eastern Europeans shy away from them and hoped that this would not be an impression that stayed with them.