Monday, 15 November 2010


Who would have thought that sharing a tin of Welshcakes could be incorporated into an English lesson on poetry from other cultures? Well it can and very successfully. I was rather sceptical to start with, hell, when I was at secondary school, the way they got us to understand poetry and I use the term ‘understand’ loosely was to learn it off by heart. It never occurred to me that people around the globe were penning their own verses. Our teachers doled out antique, dusty tomes of the Romantics. Wordsworth, Blake, Keats and Coleridge were almost daily torturers and most of the books had vulgar graffiti written inside the dust jacket that implied the previous student had not particularly enjoyed Tintern Abbey or The Ancient Mariner either. Imagine our delight, when occasionally, to be edgy and alternative, the odd Roger McGough poem was thrown into the syllabus. That was about as unconventional as English teachers got in the early 80s at my school, either they didn’t ‘get’ African poetry or they felt that there was enough talent in this country so, why bother our impressionable little heads with anything vaguely foreign. I’d imagine there was more truth in the former and so the Irish W.B Yeats was about as international as we went.
The teaching of poetry has changed significantly over recent years, and whilst some children will still groan, “Oh Miss. Not poetry” and put his head on the desk in despair, a lot of the learning is through what is now termed as ‘active engagement’. Henceforth children are not droned on at for hours on end but are expected to be active learners and find things out for themselves, or in other words to work as a group within the confines of the classroom or adjacent corridor.
The week before, I had demonstrated rap music and the rhythm therein. I had the words in front of me and decided to just ‘go for it’. I adopted some sort of ‘gangsta rapper’ stance, put on a bit of an accent and ‘made it real’ or some such expression. I looked up from the paper at one point to see a girl in the second row with tears coursing down her cheeks.
“Oh miss”, she tried to say, breathlessly whilst laughing, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen for ages. You’ve made my day”. Three tiny little boys at the back of the class looked more shifty. I’m not na├»ve. I confiscated their phones and later gave them a stern telling off about filming teachers and did I really deserve to be plastered all over YouTube? This was not the sort of active engagement that I’d had in mind.
Apart from the three errant boys the lesson was a joy. The other boys immediately got into character and not only wrote some fantastic rap songs but were at pains to rehearse their performance. I was apprehensive about making the decision to allow them to practise their routines in the corridor but, they were so engaged in the activity, they were as good as gold. It was a far cry from sitting in serried ranks learning, ‘Tyger, Tyger burning bright’, but I must say, far better for it.
So, with one lesson on poetry from other cultures under my belt, by Monday, I was brimming with confidence. I’d made a pile of Welshcakes, had brought in my great-great grandmother’s ancient bakestone, had designed a PowerPoint presentation on Welsh culture and which had a group photo of me reciting poetry as a little girl and they had to guess which one was ‘Miss’. We had a lot of fun. Imagine such a thing? I can vividly remember one master roaring at me when I got the giggles once, “You girl! Stop this silliness immediately. See me for detention. You’ve come to school to learn not to have fun”. I might have learnt more had I been terrified a little less.
I looked at my watch. There was only five minutes of the lesson left. Time for my piece de resistence. I handed around the tin of Welshcakes. No sooner had I turned my back and headed to the front of the class when projectile vomit shot past my right shoulder and splattered the interactive whiteboard. Oh my God. What had I done? I hadn’t checked my special needs roster first. Was there some poor child with a severe allergy to wheat and raisins? What if they went into an anaphylactic shock? Could an innocuous scone kill a kid? I swung round. It was easy to determine which child it was. He was green and looked like Moses in the Red Sea, the waves of children on either side of him had parted in revulsion.
“I’m so sorry Miss”, he said, nose dripping and still retching, “I never had one of your Welshcakes and they looked so nice. I just haven’t been feeling well” and to prove a point, he puked, rather profusely, once again.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Mrs Robinson. Not Really.

I am suffering birthday fatigue. The balloons have been burst, literally, not metaphorically and the banners folded away. The metallic confetti have disappeared up the Dyson and the glasses have been washed, dried and stored. The party is well and truly over. It was good fun, but my, oh my, good fun takes a lot of effort and organising. Invitations must be sent and replies counted; decorations must be applied to walls and ceilings; menus must be agreed upon, the band’s equipment has to be roadied for and the disco and PA has to be erected and a sound check, checked although, it goes without saying, that I had little involvement in the latter, other than stepping over the drums and guitars and various other musical detritus that was abandoned in my porch afterwards.
Musical instruments were not the only trip hazard in this house last weekend. At 1am, after a bloody good boogie and several glasses of wine, we wobbled up the road, closely followed by various teenagers who were staying the night along with other party animals, hell bent on continuing to carouse into the small hours. I haven’t the stamina for all-nighters these days, it could be very well argued that I never have and, by the time I’d stepped over a mature guest sitting on my kitchen floor sharing a fag with a few teenage boys, I’d had enough. Without saying a word, I crept upstairs and left them to it. I brushed my teeth and decided that, if I wanted to avoid a row with a drunken sailor in the middle of the night, we ought to spend the night apart. Due to some advanced planning, the two youngest girls were on a sleepover, consequently their beds were free and so, jamming a couple of dressing gowns against the door, I snuggled down under a Hannah Montana duvet and waited for sleep to engulf me. I tossed one way, I turned the other. I plumped my pillow; I pulled it over my head. I huffed and puffed, but I still couldn’t get to sleep. To make matters worse, the teenagers’ bladders, having had to deal with far more alcohol than was responsible, were protesting and the cistern went more frequently than the lavs at any social club during half time at an England game in the World Cup.
I saw 4am come and go and then, with a pitiful groan, saw it come and go again as the clocks went back. Finally, at some time just before breakfast, I did fall into a deep sleep, if only briefly. God knows what time he’d stumbled in, I hadn’t heard him then, but I did now. I painfully opened my eyes on hearing the sound of heavy, boozy breathing in my ear. Actually I didn’t just hear it, I felt it. With a yelp, I bounded out of bed, and there, dead to the world and still in the shape that had been spooning me, was one of my son’s teenage friends. I assumed it was one of his friends. He had scuzzy black pants on and a rock’n’roll t-shirt and his hair was obliterating his face, so to be fair it could have been one of many. They all look like Slash, although I can bet your bottom dollar that he’d have nicer knickers. Then, like any mother worth her salt, I wrapped a duvet around him, placed a bucket adjacent to his head ‘just in case’, and left him sleep it off. I could embarrass him later.
I picked my way gently down the stairs, wondering if and when my brain would start pounding inside my skull but remarkably, it was very sprightly. I didn’t feel I could justify a couple of paracetamol let alone ibuprofen.
A mass of bodies littered every sofa and floor space. One lad was curled up with the dog. They are both blond with curly hair, so I did hope that, emerging from a drunken stupor, he wasn’t going to wake up disappointed after thinking he’d got lucky.
As I walked into my dining room, more bodies in various states of slumbering inebriation were scattered hither and yon. I shrugged my shoulders and continued my perambulation. I was astonished to find Hubby in the kitchen whistling and washing dishes. The last time I’d seen him he’d been enjoying a very expensive, birthday bottle of scotch and singing Flower of Scotland.
“Mornin’”, he quipped.
“Same to you”.
“Sleep well?”
“Not really”. I thought it best to remain discreet and not mention my sleep had been gate-crashed.
Later, after I’d returned from BodyMax and made lunch for all and sundry, a vaguely familiar young man, with unruly hair and a t-shirt that I had read only hours before, walked gingerly downstairs.
“Ma”, said my son, “This is Jacob. You said it was ok for him to come and live here.” That’s right, I did although I thought it probably best not to disclose that he’d slept with his mother.

Coming of Age.

And so it came to pass that the baby in a shawl, the first born, the one with golden ringlets that weren’t cut until he was three, the infant who didn’t sleep a full night until he was two and a half, the boy who thought for all the world that he really was Harry Potter, and spent literally hours trying to get his broomstick to fly; the young lad who, for reasons still inexplicable didn’t go to school one day but absconded with a pal who was running away from home and got on a National Express bus to London, is now the handsome young man hell bent on realising his dream of rock stardom now that those of being Harry Potter have been dashed. This same man, this same boy, this same mother’s son has just turned eighteen.
It hardly seems possible, given that I have chronicled this family’s ups and downs, week in week out, that over nine years seems to have slipped through my fingers since I started my dairy. Were this a television series, this week’s episode would be a retrospective, a highlight of all the ‘good bits’ with a focus on my son’s occasional errant ways. The most errant being having a revolting bedroom, insouciance towards his A levels that make me and his father want to pull out our hair in tufts of frustration and a refusal to consider a back-up plan should the drum roll at the Mercury Music Awards for Best Rock Band, elude them. Along with the misdemeanours, this particular TV episode would also re-run all the funny bits, the bloopers that would make him squirm in embarrassment as the viewers howled in their armchairs. Who wouldn’t find it funny that the rather intimidating, 6’ 5” man, with a Russell Brandesque fashion sense, long black, hair and brooding expression, keeps a pair of underpants by his bed ‘in case of a fire’, now commonly referred to as his ‘firepants’ or that, far from being to cool to care, gets up when everyone one else has gone to bed to recheck the house is secure for the night. This is the same lad who, upon finding a bath full of water yet to be drained, immediately removed the plug lest his littlest sister went for a nocturnal wee and accidentally fall into the bath, “Didn’t you know that drowning is known as the silent death mum?” he warned me, the morning after he’d drained the bath, “There’d be no splashing about. She’s just slip quietly in”. That was me told.
There is no denying that it has been an emotional week. The baby photo albums have been wept over. The curly golden locks have been carefully removed from their plastic bag and fingered lovingly. Hubby and I were a dead loss for most of Monday and at any given moment embraced him tightly.
“Ok Ma, you can let go now. You’re hurting my ribs”, he said on more than one occasion. Hubby kept kissing him and calling him, “my son”. It was like a scene from the Lion King. My brother showed up and hugged him manfully and then Dad turned up too, watery eyed and managed with a wavering voice, “Your grandmother would have been very proud of you”. And then we let him go. With money in his pocket to burn and an ID card informing the world that he was old enough to drink, he and seven friends, left the house. Hubby and I squeezed each other’s hands. He was gone.
Precisely 55 minutes later he called, “Can you pick us up please?” Oh my God, what had happened. Was someone needing their stomach pumped?
“Where are you?”
“We’ve had dinner at the Wilcove Inn. Lovely, but we’ve finished now and ready to come home”. If this is the new rock’n’roll that I very much admire it. When I was 18, well it was a far messier affair. Hubby and I got into our respective cars and retrieved them and they continued to party in our basement, not in some club or some insalubrious dive but just downstairs. Phew.
The worst that happened that night? His fellow band-mates thought it would be a great prank to remove from his drawer, whilst he was asleep, well, his drawers, every single pair of them. They then stuck them in a Tesco’s carrier bag, soaked them and put them in the freezer. They took two days to defrost. Longer than a large turkey.
The fun, games and emotional rollercoaster doesn’t end there though. We’ve a party to get through first and not just for the eighteen year old, for, following fast on his heels in terms of milestones is my beloved, Hubby. He is about to be 50 any second. I have loved him since he was 27 years old, when the next 23 lay before us, unchartered. My final thought then must be for my mother-in-law. If 18 years has left me a reminiscent wreck, 50 years of looking back must wreak havoc. I realise that these last 18 years are only just the beginning.