As Far as I Can Tell

Small Voice Calling > The Echo > As Far as I Can Tell

“Remembered light refracts.”

Sam Smyth – that’s ‘Smith’ with a ‘y’, no ‘e’ – was a saint and a sinner. That’s not so surprising; we are all a bit of both. Saint Sam taught Latin in a cassock and a dog collar. So did Sam the sinner. The transformation between the two was instantaneous, mid conjugation. In the silence between amo and amas, the saintly priest would launch his piece of chalk at an alleged miscreant at the back of the class, and would unerringly hit his target right between the eyes. Saint no more, amat lost all credibility as Sam the sadistic bully spent the rest of the lesson declining bellum.

I was poor at Latin, try though I did, and I expected a low mark in the exam; but what Sam wrote on my school report is indelibly imprinted in my memory. In his own hand, in large red letters, are the words

‘Quite incapable’.

That memory has not faded in the 50 or so years since my last Latin class.

But there’s a problem. When I retrieved my school reports from the bureau after Mum died, and opened the one for Trinity Term 1966, there was Sam’s remark – in the same black handwriting as all the other teachers’ comments.

Faced with the evidence that this memory had refracted toward the red end of the spectrum, I expected my synapses to realign with the facts. But no, the memory is still as clear as ever it was.

It’s just wrong.

As far as I can tell
Is all that I can say
A million miles on down the road
Twelve thousand days away

From ‘As Far As I Can Tell’ by Ralph McTell
Full lyrics in ‘Time’s Poems’, p 339