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Tuesday, 30 September 2008

ring ring

“Right! What are we? We’re winners, OK? Say it then. Shout it!”
“Winners,” mumbled the boys, their minds more on the fair sharing of the biscuits than motivational chanting. Their hair is long, it’s curly, they have names like Harry and Luke. We play against teams with shaven heads, Deans and Shanes.
Junior football is a strange land I've occupied for decades, which makes me wonder why I look forward to Saturdays.
“Can’t hear you?” The coach mocked a panto hand to his ear. “And again!”

Us parents cringed with embarrassment, bent double in disassociation.
The parents of the other team looked on with frank amusement. Pit bulls strained at short leads. A touching scene of snarling and merriment, a long way from home.

WINNERS!” The coach hurled his flat cap in the air.

A fine gesture, wrecked only by the small technicality of our losing so very dramatically. More rugby the score than football. The first game had gone to 11-0.
“NO!” shouted F9, “We got 2!”
“Own goals,” I muttered, “Stop going on about it.”
A pink faced lad burst into tears.

(My phone kept going. Funky Town bursting into the field as back at home, far from the footie shift, E prepared for T12's rugby, increasingly frantic as it transpired T12 could not find his proper rugby shorts... then his gum shield ... then his boots … )

“Good luck, darling!” us mothers trilled and, “Oh well done, chicken!” as lambs to the slaughter they embarked on match 2, a game F9 and I were lucky enough to have to leave early, when poised at a crucial will-we /won’t-we stage (ie: merely on 3-0).
The coach rang me at the end to say that we had lost 12-0. After a scant four matches we flounder at the bottom of the league table. Goals for? 0; goals against? 34.

What could I say but, “Oh.”
In the background of the call, I could hear unconvinced warbles of “Winners!”

A heartbreaking e-mail emerged later from the coach. He is still chipper, but fearful that he has let the boys down. He blames himself. His responsible disappointment left me feeling mean for laughing at his flat cap and shying from his too wet lips.
I then felt cross for having to feel mean.

Meanwhile we defected to T12’s rugby trials, given his need for boots. Both he and his friend W12 are sure that a space in the A team is theirs, despite neither of them being much cop at rugby, nor even liking the playing of it much, preferring to chat.
W12’s mother, M, and I are puzzled. Being anxious and destroyed by uncertainty ourselves, we cannot source our children’s sense of entitlement in the face of negligible talent. M was still smarting over a run in with her mother about her hair, "You can't go to London looking like that, dear."

T12 slithered into F9’s football boots. F9 took T12’s trainers and looked like an orphan, trailing round the ground, muttering. His football strip out-Stanley Matthews Stanley Matthews. The coach had delivered it the night before, neatly wrapped in bronze Christmas paper. The shorts are mid-shin, the dress floating just below his knees. I was almost sick laughing. I needed mirth.

My father had phoned.
“Stop blogging about the bloody children,” he said. “Move on.”
Not much love in that, I thought.
“Put something nasty in, make it sinister. You’re quite good.”
“Darling,” my mother chipped in on the extension, “you need a job. Not an Avon lady, I don’t think, but you could become a Weight Watchers’ Team Leader.”

Where Had That Come From.

I didn’t like to think.
A very long, chilling, silence followed. The sort of silence from which great damage could emerge if the wrong thing was said. Naturally “she” saying the wrong thing would be me.
“You’d be very good,” she continued gamely, “you’re kind, and would get them going.”
I was utterly, totally horrified.

The statement had been offensive in so many ways. No fattypuff in crisis should ever have to put their faith in me, but there were clearly Other Issues at play here. In the end, I bowed to the inevitable, like a badger thinking ‘Sod it’ and lying down ready in the middle of the road. Bring on the lorry.

“I imagine you’d have to go to Weight Watchers first, mother,” I said, with the tiniest bit of bold ice in my voice, a squeak of despair valiantly repressed by the shards of my dignity.
“You’d feel marvellous,“ she breezed, “get a nice big belt and pull it tight. It’s opportunities, you see, you have to be awake to them.”

She was off to Ypres at the weekend again. Graves and war, who can resist?
“I love it,” she says.
I was tempted to tip the driver a tenner to knock her in, plonk up a white cross all of her very own. One amongst so many. Who was to know? What? Poor Mum Dead?

She phoned me before she left.
“Now, you’ll need to phone your father each morning when I’m gone, to check he’s not died in the night.”
“Why?” I said.
“The dog [blight of our collective lives, surely, this one being a borderline incontinent Newfoundland, in severe need of Weight Watching] surges past one on the stairs so. She could send him flying and of course no-one would pass, no one would know.”

She sent me fierce texts from the coach. Buoyed by distance, I tartly reminded her she was meant to think gin, not drink gin.
She claimed, like Sairey Gamp, “not a drop has touched my lip in days but leave the teapot on the mantelpiece and I will put my lips to it when I am so dispoged…”
For a senior, she’s quite dapper with the texting. Sort of Team Leader savvy. I must tell her. She could make a career of it.

I rang my father.
“Not dead yet, then?” I asked. We were at Prescott Hill Climb – I had won tickets, winning things in raffles being quite a reliable second income, for some reason. Cars roared by endlessly. The air was dense with petrol and burnt rubber, and the sensation of fielding an imminent insult; rarely a long wait, I find.
I told him about the football.
“Christ,” he groaned, “Modern bloody parents, you’re mad. You’d have died if I’d come along to any of your hockey matches.”
“It wasn't hockey,” I said, I had to shout over the roaring cars, I probably sounded mad, desperate. “It was netball.”
Then, “You’ve never appreciated me,” he said munching heartlessly on what sounded like a parsnip, “You’ll be sorry when I’m dead. I could be so dull. You’re so lucky. You have no idea.”

An image of an apocalyptic blot on my horizon, things on the road ahead I dread: my parents’ death. A landmine first strewn in youth when long, long ago, when I was fifteen, I sat next to him at a James Bond film. I don’t remember which one, since it was spent silent and wretched in tears, for he had just told me cheerily how he’d read in The Times that the 40s were a perilous decade for men, rife with heart attacks and strokes and, for men blind in one eye, the chances of making 50 were slim. It goes without saying that he is blind in one eye. And now 73.

I was plunged into a familiar despair: that of being misjudged.
I pictured the killer instinct of black fur bustling down in urgent need of a wee, the misplaced slippered foot, the glasses flung out of reach, the hope of reaching the phone all spent. The 2-for-1 pile up at the bottom of the stairs for my mother to encounter, all teapotted up, on her return.

“You haven’t got a bloody clue,” I said.

It has become necessary to add that the Prescott Hill Climb is nothing, but nothing, to do with the MP, although trotting up dat hill may do wonders for his tum, Lord, don't tell my mother. It's a car thing, bugattis and formula something, and converted jalopies and swish porsches all roaring up Against The Clock. Lots of old duffers and young lads taking notes and endless photographs. As I say, we won tickets.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

mrs hope

“Oh, Mummy, you’re just like Anne, never happier than when you’ve got a needle and thread in your hands,” sighed F9 with dubious contentment. “Yes, you make a house a home.”
He placed his sun-glasses firmly upside down on his nose and went outside to talk to the grass.
(Anne, for those not on first name terms, was last seen on the steps of a caravan letting Timmy lick the plates clean while Dick, Julian and George sorted out some filthy gypo. And since F9’s own haven of choice, his filth-packet bedroom, is a place a troll would hesitate to enter, his idea of domestic perfection is possibly insulting.)

Still, it’s true that I’ve had my fill of needle and thread recently, in sewing a million labels onto rugby tops and navy shorts, to the point of grinding a hole in my finger. Something the Victorian novelist Mrs Oliphant did for real, to more lasting effect in that her books will be read rather longer than my labels will, though not for want of strong stitches.

For T11 became T12 last week which means Secondary School.
F9 expressed his wishes for a good day in typical bizarre fashion.

T12 already looks two years older than he did a fortnight ago by dint of donning a different school uniform. [photo removed] Nylon blazers, slippery ties, oh yes, the lad is growing up: he has 73 new songs on his mobile phone to prove it. Pray God you’ll never have to hear them. We do. 2 bars of a tinny Funky Town at 6.45 in the morning tests parental love to limits the NCT kept quiet about.
A step up the school ladder is a big stride for us too.

For starters, there’s the continuous flushing of cash: not merely the usual wild splurging on Extras but endless new uniform and then £86.50 (horribly specific, as if they added it up and everything), on a bonding trip. A bonding what? one is eager to splutter. £330 went on an end of primary school jolly and now one gets stung for a beginning of term one.
Then we got a sharpish letter reminding us that we haven’t put in for Ball tickets. At £40 a pop, no, we haven’t, love. My eyes are quite giddy with rolling. We endured death by Speech Night last Friday, am I really ready to bop in a big frock, jostling with strangers and pay £40 for the pleasure?

Then there’s the unGodly hour. We have to get up as if we’re about to catch a plane, at 6.30, to ensure T12 catches his bus, a grimy soup of ring tones and tossed plaits and who fancies whom, and representing another £740 flying from the account.

Home schooling was never contemplated, thank you, but a frown did flicker at glancing at a map he’d filled in, and spotting that his confident placing of Gloucester (his school town) firmly in Wales, a shifting down and to the left by a couple of crucial centimetres that threatens Cardiff’s free run at the south coast. There was no busy, red correction from the teacher. My fingers itched, but my attempts to re-establish the relative locating of Cheltenham, Bristol, Gloucester and Cardiff were met with the disdain of one who
a) knows my reliance on sat nav to get out of the drive in one go
b) being 12, knows it all anyway.

Still, education, eh, marvellous thing.
It’s paid for, moreover, in long, long days, days where breakfast takes place in the dark and 11ses feels like lunch time.
It is easier, the hellish rising, than I had feared, but it underlines why I am a night-person. By night you can be with those whom you choose, those you love. Come the drilling of the alarm clock and we are fractured, dispatched via endless mini-roundabouts and roadworks, by an obligation to earn money or sit in a classroom.
Well some of us are, some of us stay behind and hang things crossly on the washing line and wish we’d thought of being a doctor, pound signs zinging in our greedy, lazy eyes. Until the realities of the mouth ulcers of strangers, gummy teeth and furry tongues ping in and I am content instead to take comfort in serene contemplation of two more rooms being all but finished: the house becomes a home indeed.
An ex-garage has been converted into a room housing most of our books and 2 sofas you could swim on

and we have a sitting room, (with normal sofas)

No curtains yet, nor are all the pictures up but to wander about at will without crashing into motley furniture or piles of boxes is so pleasing as to make one weep.

Consolation for being torn apart again following the lovely long holidays, for being left with the dog for company. [photo removed]

Although, when wearing her bomb, her obedience collar, she’s almost pleasant to be with. Words I never thought I’d say.

Today, we went picking blackberries. (Oh God, "we" is me and the dog, shudder.) I filled a bag full and then leant – very Aesop – towards the only plump cluster I had seen so far, just out of reach, only to plunge down a rabbit hole – very Alice. My foot was clutched by roots, my hands steeped in nettles, the bag split, the blackberries scarpered and I swore. Not very Anne.

I stood there, suddenly knee high, fearing moles and bats permeating my boots, feeling strange, feeling like Mrs Hope. She who knew that Help Was Coming. A clumsy pensioner with a propensity for living on the edge who, in a range of press ads in the ‘80s, frequently found herself poleaxed on the floor: stumbling on the stairs, stiff across the lino, prone against the back door. Was there an ill-advised attempt to take on the attic ladder? I think there was. She never learnt. Anyway, a twit on her pins, Mrs Hope cannily clung to her zapper and could ping for Help. The tools of my rescue were merely the detonator for Lolly’s bomb and my mobile phone which at that point swarmed into life with a lusty toot of Funky Town (courtesy of T12). I glanced at my hands and arms, resembling those of a self-harmer and discussed lesson dates with the piano teacher at the other end of the line. I whispered, fearful of being come upon in a hole and shouting.

Then I clambered out of the hole, undignified and rather foolish. The crumble will be slim on blackberries, and still it's not yet time for lunch.