It’s not often I’m moved to tears by the Guardian. Actually, I’ve never been moved to tears before by that worthy newspaper famed in my journalism classes for its smelling errors. But today I had a mascara-running moment.
The Guardian’s Saturday magazine has an ‘experience’ feature. Ordinary people tell their stories, they’re all on the interesting scale, but Sue Chapman capped the lot. Sixty-three-year-old-Sue confessed, she couldn’t read until she was 60. Three score years, two children, grandchildren, a job, a lifetime surrounded by words she couldn’t read.
I can’t imagine not being able to read, I started school with a vocabulary fuelled by long reading sessions with my patient grandparents, addicted to Rupert the Bear’s adventures as related through the Daily Express when it was a real newspaper and the odd snippets I could manage from Exchange and Mart.
But Sue stumbled through school, bullied by classmates and teachers alike, who thought she was lazy and stupid. She managed to hide her illiteracy from her husband, who did all the paperwork, her children, who she encouraged to do homework with friends and colleagues at the factory where she worked. A book factory, an irony that wasn’t lost on her.
It was a bout of depression and a kind word from a volunteer from a local charity that broke through the barrier she’d put around herself.Three years later, with the £200 prize she won for being a top adult learner she bought a Kindle and is making up for lost time by devouring books. She’s currently reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles and is working towards her O-levels or whatever they’re called today. Sue, you’re a marvel, you brought tears to my eyes, good on you! I recommend to you my favourite book, Dumas’ tale of vengeance and ultimate redemption, The Count of Monte Cristo.