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Teachers are Humans. Who Knew?

28 Dec

Teachers are human beings. When I was a kid I had no idea. I’ve been travelling back in my mind to my school days a lot lately, replaying interactions teenage me had with certain teachers, and seeing things in a completely different light to how I did back then. I can step into the heads of those old teachers of mine, see where they were coming from. Because I am them now. I’m a teacher. How that happened I do not know, but it did, and it has been my profession on and off for ten years this year. And yea, teachers are human beings. Flawed. Unhinged. And with a beautifully twisted and well articulated sense of humour. That last sentence is open to accusations of writer’s bias. So be it.

I know that teachers are these things not only because I am one, that would be too small a sample section, but because I am also surrounded by them. Most of the things I do I do with teachers. I hang out with teachers, I drink with teachers, I get stoned with teachers, I discuss life with teachers, I argue with teachers, I sleep with teachers, I watch football with teachers, I get my advice from teachers. The woman currently the object of my attentions is a teacher. I even have a teacher for a flatmate. My living-room has a massive whiteboard on the wall and a fold-up table used solely for giving evening lessons. My living-room is a classroom with settees and a telly, for fuck’s sake! So I feel I am qualified to speak about teachers.

I was, for want of a better word, a challenge to my teachers. A pain in the arse. Although they must have liked my company, because they chose on an almost daily basis to spend an extra hour (sometimes two) of their time with me after the final bell had rung for the day, in detention. Man, in the winter I rarely got home before dark. And I only lived up the road. Detention. How is that allowed?

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I’m Back In 1995

15 Dec

Lately, when I lie in the darkness at night smoking a couple of spliffs in bed and switching off from the day spent traipsing all over teaching my students English, I’ve been having vivid flashbacks to my childhood. Random stuff. Never anything particularly significant. But one memory always leads on to another, and I am there, back on the school field or sat in detention or on Western Road in Brighton doing Christmas shopping with my sister, my nan and my aunt. I can smell it. Hear it. Feel it. Tonight is no different, but for the fact that I don’t have to get up for work tomorrow morning on account of a chest infection, meaning I can sit up in front of my laptop and write some stuff down. I am aware that smoking with a chest infection makes me an idiot.

For some reason tonight my brain took me back to an eventful day in the early months of 1995, when I was 11, playing out like a film in my mind’s eye, with 3D glasses provided free of charge, scenes that had been absent from my memory for well over a decade. Bizaare scenes.

It’s about half past one in the afternoon and, unlike most of my mates, I’m not in class but rather the school hall. I’ve been excused from lessons because I’m in the school production and an emergency rehearsal has been called because the performance date is approaching and we’re shit, basically. Nowhere near ready. My role in the play is a small one so most of the time it’s other people rehearsing their bits while I’m sat on the floor with the other D-Listers. I keep getting told off for talking and pissing about and the teacher’s really starting to get on my tits. I’m not interested in the production, I only signed up for a part in it because I knew it would get me out of class occasionally. Also I’ve got something more important on my mind. In a few hours I’m going to be making my debut for the school’s Year 5 football team and, even more exciting than that, it’s against Manor Hall, our biggest enemy, the school from just up the road, the kids of which we fight in the park, the same kids that we went to first school with and were best friends with until we separated and went to different middle schools at the end of Year 3 and became sworn foes. This is a proper derby. And my nan’s coming to watch. And even better than all of that, we get to leave school early to get over to their school in time for the game. At 2 o’clock I’m sent to go and get changed with the rest of the team. I’m given shirt number 11. I wanted 8, because it’s Gazza’s number, but 11 is the next best thing, I’m not complaining.

There aren’t enough seats in the mini-bus for the whole team so those of us with bikes take them instead. Down Church Lane, cut through the graveyard, across the green, through the square, along Manor Hall Road. Say hello to my nan. Jog up and down. Start the game. And then a moment that will haunt me for the rest of my life, of this I am sure, almost 20 years after it happened. A cross is put in from the left wing. I don’t know by who, but it isn’t by the player that should be out there, our left winger, because that player is me, and I’m hovering about just outside Manor Hall’s box. The ball goes over my head towards our star player Ross and as it approaches him it plays out in front of me in slow motion, as I know that Ross is more than capable of taking the sting out of this with his chest and then laying it off to me, and the one thing that I pride myself on is my technique when it comes to volleying. I position myself and Ross plays it perfectly, it bounces just in front of me and sits up nicely and I take it on the half volley and connect with it more sweetly than I will ever connect with another ball in my life. I watch it fly from my boot and I know already that it’s going in the top corner. Everybody knows it. There is silence as the ball spins away deliciously to its target. The goalkeeper doesn’t even bother moving. I’m about to write my name into school folklore by scoring a wonder goal from outside the box against Them. Them from up the road. Them whose school jumpers are bright blue as opposed to our navy blue ones. And my nan’s watching. And she’ll tell everyone what she saw. She’ll tell my dad. What goal celebration am I going to do?

The ball smacks against the angle of the crossbar and the post and ricochets behind for a goal-kick.

I go into shock.

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Completely True Memories From My Birth

4 Jun

Allow me to reminisce briefly about a funny thing that happened to me one early morning thirty years ago. I was born! I climbed out of another human being’s body! Mental, right? Now I’m not going to claim that I remember any details from the day of my birth, because that would be an obvious lie, wouldn’t it? but I do clearly remember this: that when the midwife put me on the scales for the first time in that delivery room, she turned to my knackered looking mum and said, ‘Your son weighs 6 pounds and 2 ounces, which is quite tiny. Also – and I’ve never had to tell a new mother this before – half of that body weight is made up of thick, dark hair.’

To which my mother responded chirpily from just above the rim of her cup of tea, ‘Yea, that’ll be the Indian in him.’

Everyone gathered round was just about to chuckle politely, when a moment of silence descended for them to quickly ask themselves whether my mum’s little quip had been politically correct or not, everyone coming to the same conclusion: that this was the early 80s and we were in South London, so who really gave a shit? Also my mum’s granddad had been an Indian immigrant to Britain, so she was allowed to make comments like that, alright? Also, she never really said it, did she? This whole scenario up until now has been, if I’m truthful, made up as I go along. Why? Who knows? So yea, once everybody in the room had realised all of these things, they each allowed themselves a grin, before stopping what they were doing for a moment to enjoy a biscuit, picked from an assortment atop a plate that a passing ambulance driver had carried in to the room just seconds earlier.

‘I was just on my way home with this tray of biscuits, when I heard the screams of a newborn and followed my instincts (and my ear) to deliver this celebratory selection to the welcoming party! Congratulations!’ the nice man said.

A hospital orderly then handed everyone a fresh cup of tea, for biscuits to be dipped in. My dad politely turned down his offering, however, preferring instead to dip a Custard Cream in his beer. Each to their own. And then the hairy newborn baby in the room (the hairy newborn baby that was me, remember) raised his tiny little finger into the air, cleared his tiny little throat, and asked in a voice that shocked people by how deep it was for a baby, ‘What about the welcomee? Doesn’t he get a biscuit, too? I could murder a Bourbon.’

Everyone looked at each other confusedly, saying nothing, before their minds were put to rest by the calming words of one of the doctors in the room, who said, ‘Don’t worry; he’ll grow into that voice one day.’

There was then a period of silence; a silence that was broken by my mum asking, ‘Can the same be said of the hair, doctor?’

The doctor’s words on this occasion were less reassuring: ‘Even if your son grew to the size of André the Giant, which he won’t, he will never grow into all that hair.’

This cultural reference worked better then that it would today because in 1983 everyone on the planet (mostly) knew who André the Giant was. Today, not so much. Today in a similar situation the doctor might say, ‘Even if your son grew to the size of Wikipedia, which he won’t, he will never grow into all that hair.’

Everyone just smiled silently at the doctor’s knowledgeable input; everyone except for the passing ambulance driver, that is, who broke the silence for the second time to say, ‘Hang on a minute! Is that what everyone thought was weird about the baby asking for a Bourbon – that he asked for it in a deep non-baby like voice? Not one of your confused expressions was brought on by the mere fact that the newborn baby just spoke? I thought we were all on the same page back then! Obviously not!’

My dad then uttered his first words of the occasion, saying, ‘Runs in the family, that. I been speaking since about three weeks before birth. Nothing weird about that.’

The ambulance driver was lost for words, literally, and so just shook everybody’s hand and left the scene.

‘I never knew that about you!’ my mum said to my dad, after the ambulance driver had shut the door behind him.

‘That’s because it’s not true!’ he replied, ‘How could I have been talking from before I was born? I can’t believe that worked!’

The midwife then tapped my dad on the shoulder and asked, ‘What was the point of making that up?’ to which my dad uttered his now infamous words, ‘I just said it without thinking first.’

‘Genius,’ said the hairy newborn baby, ‘Genius.’

The hospital orderly collected up everyone’s empty mugs on a tray – she also took my dad’s empty can and said she’d find a bin for it – and then the midwife picked up the hairy newborn baby (aka Me) and said, ‘Right you, you’re coming with me!’

‘Where’s he off to, then?’ my mum asked.

‘Remember I said that he weighed 6 pounds and 2 ounces, and that that was quite tiny? Well it’s very tiny; probably down to the fact that he wasn’t meant to be born for another three weeks,’ the midwife explained, whilst giving me a little beanie hat and telling me to put it on; which I did obediently.

‘Is that why he’s a bit blue?’ asked my dad from across the room.

‘It is, yes.’

‘Ah that’s alright then, for a while I was secretly wrestling with the suspicion that my wife had been having a Smurf round the house while I was at work,’ my dad said. ‘So where’s he going then? You still didn’t tell us.’

‘Oh yea, sorry, I’m a forgetful thing sometimes,’ said the midwife, giggling, ‘He’s going to live in an incubator for a while.’

‘Oh. Okay then,’ my mum said, ‘Can you turn the light off on your way out, please, I’m about ready to pass out.’

The midwife picked me up and we headed to the door together. Just before she switched off the light she said to me, ‘Wave goodbye to your mum, if you don’t die then you’ll see her in a little while.’

‘Wait! What?’ said the hairy baby.

I didn’t die, and a week later I was taken home to meet the family dog.

me baby

When You Meet Your Childhood Hero And Find Out He’s A Drunk

25 May

‘Put your gloves on, it’s cold outside. And hurry up, or you’ll miss Father Christmas!’

‘But what about Dad?’

‘He must’ve missed his train home from work. We’ll have to go without him. He knew what time we were leaving. Now come on, the pair of you!’

Disappointed as we both were that Dad was gonna miss out on a few mince pies and the chance to meet Father Christmas, who, by some incredible feat of persuasion my school had managed to book for a personal meet and greet session, for one evening only, and just a week or so before the busiest night of his year – I heard a rumour many years later that this was down to the school secretary of the time Ms. X, who had had an abortion on the quiet fifteen years earlier at the aggressive insistance of the unwilling father, and had never uttered a word of it to anyone since. Not until the day the Chuckle Brothers had cancelled at short notice the appearance they had been booked to make at my school for what seemed like forever. Everyone had been devastated by the news. Some kids reported that their parents had taken down the Christmas trees they’d only just put up a day or two before. It looked to some like Christmas 1989 was going to be cancelled. Ms. X couldn’t just stand by and watch helplessly. She knew what she had to do. She made the phonecall. Sure, getting the real Father Christmas to turn up at our Christmas fair would never fully fill the collective gap that existed in all of us as a result of missing out on meeting Barry and Paul Chuckle (Some of us kids had had a bet on who would be the first to say ‘To me, to you’ to them), but it would at least go some way to restoring Christmas – my sister and I both knew not to dilly dally. We were out the door with Mum and breathing in the crisp air, under the clear sky, illuminated with bright stars, walking down the hill to where the magic was to take place: our primary school.

*I feel I should point out that since hearing that rumour about Ms. X, I now know it to be false; made up by a couple of urchins that I shared detention with one afternoon. Well, I shared detention with them (and many others) almost every afternoon for four years. But that’s not my point. My point is the rumour was bullshit. While we’re clearing the air like this, I also want to get it off my chest that Ms. X wasn’t her real name.

My school (which seemed massive to 6-year old me, but looks no bigger than a few sunday league changing rooms joined together when observed through my grown-up eyes) was buzzing with energy, excitement and festive cheer as we walked through the main door and were greeted by a few of our teachers, who were dressed as elves. ‘Nice touch,’ I thought to myself. All the grown-ups did the ‘Merry Christmas! Here, you must try one of these mince pies!’ thing, while I entertained myself by sliding around on my knees on the polished floor. ‘Oh look, mine does that as well. Little buggers, ain’t they?’ one of the grown-up ladies said to my mum. My mum ignored her to march over and pick me up off of the floor by my collar. I stayed up.

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Toilet Trauma : My Earliest Childhood Memory

23 May

‘Did not need this,’ I sighed to myself. ‘Really did not need this.’ My likely-soon-to-prove-fatal torment was accompanied temporarily by a soundtrack, one that brings me out in a cold sweat and the kind of rash that has people around debating the potential need for quarantine, each and every time I hear it, right up to the present day. And you’d be surprised just how often that mocking sound worms its way into my life, even now. Even now….. in my 30s. The taunting repetitive mechanical wheezing audio accompaniment to what I was sure were to be my final moments as a living human was coming from Thomas. Well, I called him Thomas, we were mates; but to those not on familiar terms, he was Mr. Tank Engine. I once heard The Fat Controller call him Tom. Thomas just muttered, ‘Don’t call me Tom, you fat controller.’ ‘What was that?’ ‘Oh nothing, I was just saying ‘choo choo!’’ And then he slid off along the tracks. But that had been then, and this was now. And now, Thomas was staggering around my kitchen floor, like a hairless hamster on ketamine (as a sidenote, once many many years later I found myself in the uncomfortable position on a stranger’s kitchen floor where I believed whole heartedly that I was a hairless hamster, only not one on ketamine. Turned out it was just me on ketamine) bumping occasionally into the skirting board. I couldn’t see him – I am having to trust the information my ears provided me to make this observation – all I could see was the top half of the mirror on the wall above the sink; the gap in the door to my left, on the other side of which Thomas mooched about aimlessly. (He would tire soon, his current burst of energy had been provided him by the turning of the key in his side, which I had taken care of just a couple of seconds before pausing our joyous play session, leaving the room and finding myself fighting for my life); and my knees. I could see my knees. I couldn’t really miss them, they were at eye level, a few inches from my face. I tried to move myself; to wriggle free. My knees were now above eye level. My feet were pointing up at the light in the ceiling. If I had been religious (or a moth) instinct may have driven me to attempt to go into the light. Who knows; for fortunately I was neither. I was also unable to move. Worse than all of this, the bottom of my arse was getting wet. I was sinking! I was going to get flushed away like a turd. A little, hairy turd. Again I sighed to myself, ‘Did not need this,’ (I had quite an understated and dry way of looking at the world as an infant) before shouting, ‘Help! Help!’

I may have blacked out for a moment, such was the traumatic nature of this episode, because I have no recollection of any moments passing between those cries and what I experienced next. I managed to open my eyes (which had both been closed due to fear) and there, standing over me, looking down with love in his eyes and a warm smile across his face, stood my granddad. He had heard my pleas and arrived from the living room to save my life. I would owe him for the rest of it. I was overcome with a feeling of complete love and gratitude towards this 50-year old man. He was clearly overwhelmed himself with the powerful bonding that was taking place, so overwhelmed in fact that it rendered him motionless to free me from my predicament. The realisation then hit that I had misinterpreted my granddad’s warm smile. He was laughing. The silent kind of laughing, induced by looking at something so funny it disables your voice box. I just looked at him. He looked at me. Nobody doing anything that could be considered productive. And then my granddad cleared his throat in an attempt to find his voice. ‘Janny, come and see this! It’s funnier than anything I could’ve imagined!’

‘Well then you are clearly the owner of a very poor imagination, Granddad. Would it not be funnier, for instance, if you had walked in here to find my head stuck in the tap? That’s just one example off the top of my head. I could think of loads,’ I said in my head.

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Remember That Time We Contacted The Dead?

24 Mar

Do you remember that time when we was about ten or eleven years old, it was the spring time, and that kid that everyone was a bit afraid spent the morning telling us about how he was able to speak to the dead? And do you remember how he told us it definitely worked, cos he’d done it at home the night before, so he knew? Remember the looks on our faces? I definitely remember the look on yours. And then when he told us that we could do it too. All we needed was this thing called a Ouija board, even if we never woulda known then that that’s how it was spelt, if forced to hazard a guess we would’ve probably spelt it weedgie board, and a coin. That was all we needed, he told us, to talk to the dead! Man, I remember the look on your face. But wait, shit, we haven’t got a weedgie board. What’s that? It doesn’t matter, you say, because we can make one ourselves on a piece of A4 paper? And it just so happens that we’ve got a photocopier in our classroom with a tray full of A4 paper. Remember the excitment when he told us that? Breaktime couldn’t come soon enough that day, could it? Even if deep down inside we knew that what that weird kid was telling us couldn’t possibly be true, we knew that we’d make our weedgie board, form a circle around it, put our fingers on the coin and nothing whatsoever would happen, even if we knew all that really, we still couldn’t fucking wait for breaktime, could we? What if it was true? It couldn’t be though, could it? Why we were even entertaining the idea? Roll on breaktime!

We didn’t have to wait til breaktime though for our juices to really get flowing, did we, cos remember how fifteen minutes before break that kid told the teacher he was going to the toilet and when he returned five minutes later he only produced a weedgie board from his pocket, that he had made in the cloakroom! Yes! Remember that? Course you do! You don’t forget those days. Ever. Everytime the teacher went over the other side of the classroom he whipped it out on the table for us to marvel at. Remember how big he had written the words ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ up in the corners? And remember the alphabet and numbers written in the circle? And remember how that weedgie board looked absolutely fuck all like any Ouija board you’ve ever seen since? But it was the only weedgie board we’d ever seen, so it had to be proper, and besides, this kid had done it at home the night before and he knew what he was talking about, alright?

Remember how at the time the obvious question never crossed our minds, ‘What sort of weird home life has this kid got if he’s conducting séances at night?’ And that kid didn’t even have any brothers or sisters, man! So I wanna know who the fuck was introducing him to this stuff? His parents? ‘Hello, Childline?’

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Metaphorical Coin Toss of Biological Force — Stoned Thoughts on Discrimination

26 Feb

Out here I can walk for miles and miles, surrounded on all sides by fields, brown mountains watching over me from afar, and I won’t see another person or hear a single car. And I can talk to myself as loudly as I want without anyone overhearing and presuming I’m loco. I can watch the clouds, the rabbits, the birds, and I can smoke as much as my heart desires without having to worry that someone unapproving might catch a whiff of it in the air. There’s no one to interrupt my thoughts. And then without warning a dirt path drops me on the edge of an urbanisation. And there are pavements. And detached houses, protected by thick, metal gates. And I’m not in Spain anymore. I’m on the suburban Hertfordshire estate that I used to stay on as a little kid when spending a couple of weeks of summer with my aunt. They may as well stop calling it an urbanisation and start calling it what it actually is, a British colony. Even the streets have got English names. Winston Churchill Road. Dublin Road. Does Dublin count as an English name? I don’t think so, actually. It’s an Anglophone word though. I think. Or not. Is Anglophone a word or have I just made that up? It doesn’t look right. I may have made it up. No, it must be a word. Shit, I’m watching my neuromotor skills deteriorate in real time. Is ‘neuromotor skills’ the right name for what I mean? Is neuromotor even a word? Well, I think I’ve just proved my point! I’ve forgotten my point. Did I have a point?

Unmistakably British gentlemen, retired, walk their dogs at dusk. ‘Come on Tiddles, there’s a good boy.’ Continue reading

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