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Saturday, 26 November 2011

speedvans, marie antoinette, buzzing boys and a kind of crucifition

"Wrong! theres only one speed van on each stretch of road, AND  he's always in the same place,  always"  the boy has emerged from his  miasmic gloom of last night ( much passionate electric guitar playing with a closed look on his face) .  He's first out  the traps into the eternal  argument on our  way to school this morning.  "But..but.. there could be another one,  further on in front of us, another one........" the boss never got to finish,  "They have a limited number of vans, how do you suppose they could EVEN AFFORD  to  have more than one in each area,  they're trying to slow you down not catch you out"  the boy is energetically working up a head of steam,  "And you know this how?" the dreaming genuis comes to life ( from  a dignified retreat on being told to pull down her skirt).   "Just look it up on the internet,  go on, they show you where the van is, in each area", the boy  is on a roll (and loud. Loud)  "But that doesn't  mean there  can't be others.."..  "It DOES,   read the stuff on the website,  they 're not trying to catch you out,  it's always,  always,  the same place". "Umm well we must check out the website darling, to settle the arguement".  "There's  no point, HE settles the arguement by shouting everyone else down". (the dreamer is bitter) "And YOU never..."    "Christmas boxes,! for people in need!" I say hastily "have we got ours ready" (a strategic change of subject) "Oh, and you know there's a lot of homelessness in town", says the boy wisely, "we see Red Willlie out side our school every morning,. Of course," chuckling, "he's not actually homeless, just comes in on the train every day  and pretends to be". "Really, mum all you have to do is look around you in town and you will spot the homeless people, its not a joke, they are there", (my pained angel)   " Yes and how do you  actually know they are homeless darling?".  "Oh , oh you do know," said the boss,  " like sometimes you see people who like have  like layers, like two jumpers tied around their wast and maybe two coats on top, and ...and... and old shoes".  "Ah" said I, "people wearing their entire wardrobe in fact ."  "Yes, ( the First daughter has gone from stern to icy) yes, and those people are cold (a slight shudder, she being a cold creature) and have no where to go".   "And mum, WHY  do we have a big house all to ourselves" (the boss is in accusative mode ).    "Huh?".  "Yes, all to ourselves when you could fit another family in  our house. At least".  I protest faintly that our house is not that big, and we have a person in every bed room, while reflecting that another family might be interesting considering that this family cannot abide each other for long  stretches of the day. We discuss tenements, where, I say entire families   had a room each in large houses in the last century, and there was huge efforts made to get them  OUT OF THAT, and  into proper accomodation. "But you can see homeless people, every day NOW" insists my   avenging angel....  "Yes" ( the boss's  tone is sadly reproachful) .. there's that man who sits outside all day long,  near  your office mum, on the doorstep, you  can see him all the time.". (I feel  as though I have told them all  to eat cake.)( And you can call me   Marie Antoinette ). "Oh " bellows the boy , "I  KNOW  him, we all know him, HUH ,  he knows what he's  doing, and he always winks at you".  "Theres is no point, NO  POINT,  in continuing with this conversation"  (the angel speaks. ).  "No, no,  go on darling, say what you want to say ". " NO  point. There is no point with HIM talking over you,ALL THE TIME.  I refuse to discuss this, while HE is allowed shout everyone down, and sneer and never be dealt with!"  There is a silence after this passionate speech. Then I tell her that, in my experience, sadly, this is how men argue  and/or debate, they compete,  they attack, it often involves  shouting. "And after all darling its good experience for you, to make yourself heard over him. When I went to university, it took me quite a while to adjust to men taking over debates and discussions and I wasted a lot of time being indignant, until the penny dropped. They do the same to each other, its not gender directed,"   "Huh, thats just unreal, mum, thats...thats just  a cop out, you just let him away with  it".  "And the  good thing (I labour on brightly, in her cold  silence)  IS THAT THEY NEVER MIND YOU SHOUTING BACK. ITS..ITS ...LIBERATING  ". I am addressing (shouting as it turns out) her back as she climbs out of the car, and unfortuately follow up with an injunction to pull down her skirt (shifted upwards again).  I say unfortunate as, according to the boss and the sniggering boy, there is a small group of youths standing nearby who overhear and are staring after her, broad grins on their faces. (OH DEAR GOD  the poor  girl is right, and I am an Inadequate. A terrible fool).  But perhaps she hasn't realised. ".  "Umm mum, I think she knows, " as we pass her by,  arms actually folded, and face set as she walks. And that my friends  is how to alienate your beloved daughter, ( fast forward to hours of appeasement later on) from sheer inadvertant tacklessness and instinctive motherly injunctions at the wrong moment. The so very wrong moment.

I  drove into town  to collect the boy from  meeting up with his friend on Friday  evening. "But surely, darling, there were only two of you when I left you in?" as I extracted him from a buzzing ball of at least twenty boys. " Oh" he said airly "we just kind of picked them up as we went along,  you  know,  fellas all on a half day from school, hanging around, we sort of gathered them up and kept going. "going where dear boy? "Oh, nowhere, not really, just  walkin and talkin, just hangin around".  The entire gathering seemed to have vanished when I  looked back .. As though I had unravelled a ball of wool when I extracted the boy. "Where have  they gone  now?".  "Home" he said laconically before asking me what was for dinner. I had a sudden arresting vision of a vortex,  a boyball rolling through the town sucking every pubesent boy into its ever increasing energy field, emptying   the town and hinterland  of laughing,  care for nothing boys, til I and a few other parents extracted a handful, and the rest fell out, seeping  home to their tired, bemused and  (no doubt) relieved  parents.

The boss has won an inter schools art competition on Monday.  Her second win this term, her earlier poster win going forward to represent the county. She is a prolific prize winner of art and other childrens'  competitions. The school encourages it, its good for them and good for her. And,  as I think I may have already mentioned , I bask.  Her first painting competition  win occured when she was seven years old. That  competition was sponsered by the parents of a small child who had died,  a pupil at the school, a silver cup given  to the winner  in her memory. When she won, the boss brooded much on whether this would make the childs parents feel any  better, and why and how the child died. For a time,  it seemed she could not think about her win at all without thinking about this child. There was much discussion about what happens when we die (such  a long story) and why, and why  that particular child and not another.  I struggled  to explain, as you do, to put some safe shape on the realities of death and loss.  You never feel you are actually qualified to offer these( halting)explanations. And you never are.    The boss herself caused me a few heart stopping moments. When she was two months old, as I tiredly  descended the stairs , a footslip and she flew from my arms,  a precious fragile thing  (so recently and with such brooding  careful thought , such labouring energy,  brought into the world)  falling down endlessly, getting further and further away from me to as I watched,  useless. (useless)  (useless). "I think we were lucky this time,  She must have bounced on her nappy, not a bother on her," the doctor told me later with grim humour.  I had a similar sensation two years later, when she  fell under the reversing  car of a horrified neighbour, the sense  of increasing, forever stretching distance as I ran  on and on  towards the car pinning my silent  child. It is as though you have already taken on board an eternity of consequences and loss in an elongated second, a lifetime of guilt accepted, a desperate bargaining with god, fate,  or something, being offered in arrested time.    And  we were lucky that time too, a clean break in her leg, her precious head and vital organs safely clear of the wheel. I was hysterical, unravelled for a long time afterwards.  I  sometimes access those desperate slices of frozen time,  of  watching  at the top of the stairs,of  the endless never to arrive race towards the car,  a  head trip  for  darker moments.      She has forgotten about the child who gave her name to that early art competition   now,  she glories in her win, plots on the spending of a generous cash prize as she ought,  though  I have not. All her  subsequent wins, briefly and poignantly  bringing this child to mind. Her sister had , in fact, brought home a  sad little story  the year before, about a child in her class, headscarf wearing and often absent, who  didn't run about with the other children in the yard  "cos she's not allowed, mum", but who was always smiling "cos she's nice mum".  I began to check  on  whether this child had had come to school  from time to time. One day, she said to me "Oh no, mum, she never comes in now". I made some enquires,  and it was as I had apprehended. My daughter  never mentioned the child again, forgot about her , I suppose,  but the fate of those  two children merged in my mind, a  waking   nightmare, the small hostage to fortune given with each child,  lost ,  the  haunting fear of  all  parents,    the unthinkable thing if you are to carry on with reasonable  confidence and the energy required in rearing  children. . This poem is about agony.  And the  unyielding  love  of parents.


                                                            unbearably slender thread,
                                                               an egg shell head
                                                                   is all ,between my baby and the void.
                                                   Inadequate membrane of pink and bone
                                                          to house
                                                                my jewel, my care, my own,
                                                                    that cruel chemicals exposed.
                                                   The soft brown down that grew
                                                        and stirred our hopes
                                                           not enough
                                                              to keep my sweet one warm.

                                                  We wrapped her up in cotton wool,
                                                      in  layer on layer on layer of love.
                                                  The drugs they said,
                                                        we spoonfed
                                                             from her poisoned cup.
                                                   We took her back to school
                                                            the glory days
                                                                 we knew she could.
                                                    I held her ghosthand fast
                                                        the long way there
                                                            the long way back,
                                                               oh fool, remember not to hold too hard.
                                                    Her face and open beam of glee
                                                            to be
                                                                with her own kind.
                                                    So rough, so rude, so everyone of them alive.
                                                    My face a mask,
                                                               I mimed goodbye,
                                                                    I mimed
                                                                       dont crush, dont push
                                                                            dont be too much
                                                                                dont let her know you know,
                                                                                   on this day let her be a living child.
                                                     Her tense and radient face
                                                                  dreams of beginning
                                                                        willing to start.
                                                     The memory,
                                                               slow corrodes my heart.
                                                     It trails to mock my struggle through nightsdark.
                                                     I carry you
                                                            you carry me
                                                                 between us two she lies.
                                                      I am without compass
                                                                     this husk.
                                                      The small white coffin has the rest.
                                                      (We let them, take her, coffin with the rest)

Epilogue:  she stood beside me a few minutes ago,  the boss, at the lift  in the multi story car park telling me about how she played  the same  traditional songs over and over   on the accordian in the school band,  for the school open day ( Open Days, even in primary schools these days, such is the competition for pupils and precious grants) "and.. .and I had to give my red band jacket to Roisin,  mum, cos  like she forgot hers, n only mine would fit her,  and they gave me  another  too small one, and my arm was bent in it as I played,  n  like I couldn't straighten it, and it was so funny, n we had to play the same songs over n over, and we couldnt stop laughing, n it was brillant, like so much better than class, n Mrs Ryan was pleased with us,  even though  we kept laughing, n even though my arm was achy n we had to keep playing the same ones over n over, like, like KEEP PLAYIN GIRLS! SHE SAID,   n  even tho we laughed,  n laughted,  n laughed" and  she was off, away from me,  running down the up moving  escalator, her solid twelve year old frame  a blur of motion ,   hair streaming behind  "cos the lift is  so boring mum, an this its faster, n the boy  n me always come down this way you know , n  you should try it yourself Mum" she breathlessly tells me  when I catch up with her down below.