Grannie Chapman could neither read nor write, Pa tells me, so she signed her name with an X. But around Industry Terrace and Beehive Place in Brixton, it was, often as not, Grannie Chapman who saw people into the world, if you didn’t want to bother the midwife or incur the expense of a doctor.
“So Frank says to me, ‘say something in Cockney,’ so I say ‘apples and pears’ and he says, ‘what does that mean?’ and I say ‘stairs. It means stairs.’ So he laughs and says ‘tell me another’ and I say ‘nice whistle and flute’ and I tell him that means ‘suit’. ‘How about that, Lillian?’ he says to his missus, only she don’t hear ’cause she’s a bit mutton.
Pick us, Miss, pick us! Look how neatly we have lidded our marker pens! And see our flip-chart of ideas – a thing of beauty, too, in many colours, to which we all contributed collaboratively, working as a team…
Apart, that is, for the cow who teaches at – well, you know the one. Her anyway. Didn’t want to come on the course in the first place. Thought ‘Schemas in the Under Sevens’ was going to be about curriculum plans and not fannying around with a load of bricks. The only thing that’s stopping her playing with a mobile phone is that they’ve not yet been invented. We’d be better off teaching six year olds to name parts of speech, according to her. What a dinosaur!
“So there we were, scrabbling around on the cell floor in front of the Naked Rambler, trying to pick up the papers and desperately trying not to look up and not to laugh…”
It broadens the mind does travel, and going away last weekend to celebrate a school-friend’s sixtieth brought us into contact with interesting people who had interesting stories to tell and different – shall we say – viewpoints.
It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that babies are a lot more fun when you’ve had a night’s sleep.
I’m yawning here just at the thought of those hours spent rocking the buggy, singing “my old man’s a dustman” to the tune of “girl from Ipanema.” Driving round the block in the early hours, hoping in vain that there won’t be cries as soon as the engine’s turned off. Arriving at work on autopilot only to discover that not only is YoungLochinvar still in his child seat (forgotten to drop him off at Ma’s) but also that, in the early morning rush, I’ve failed to shut the front door (concerned neighbour, police visit). How does anyone survive early parenthood? Nightmare.
Life can turn on a sixpence.
Ann from next door and I were chatting yesterday whilst sweeping leaves off the pavement. Ann has an uncle – we’ll call him Pat – in his mid-nineties. He’s been married for forty-seven years to his second wife. Let’s call her Jess. She’s about ten years younger than Uncle Pat, so mid-eighties. There are two sons, both abroad.
“We’d been calling all afternoon,” said Douglas’s daughter. “We were about to have one last try when he rang us. Apparently he’d been out with some neighbours. They’d gone, Dad told us, to ‘sing to the old people’.” (Douglas was nearly ninety four.) “I do hope he mimed. Even the old people don’t deserve Dad’s singing.”
“Who’s he? Have we seen him before?”
“He’s married to the woman who posts the blog.”
“The vlog. We’ve established it’s a vlog.”
“Yes her. With the blond hair.”
“OK. Can you pause it a minute? OK. Tak.”
Put aside quilt. Dash into bedroom and return with reel of thread. Install self back on sofa and start to thread needle.
“OK?” says ActorLaddie. “Say when.”
“Nu. Tak… Hang on – who’s he? Is that the Russian Roulette guy?”
It’s two in the morning when the phone starts to ring. I stumble onto the landing; this being the early 80s and cordless phones the stuff of science fiction.
“Hello!” A voice bellows in my ear. Very loud; very Irish. “Is Mary there?”
“It’s two o’clock in the morning,” I answer. “She’ll be in bed.”
“Is Mary there?” comes back the yell. “It’s her brother in New York.”
“It’s still two o’clock in the morning – she’ll still be in bed,” I repeat.
“Can you get Mary for me?” I give up, go downstairs and bang on the bedroom door.
“Your brother’s on the phone again.” Eventually Mary appears, dressing-gowned and curlered. I make my way back to bed while my landlady and Seamus yell across the Atlantic at each other.
Continue reading →
And what season is it? asks Julia.
The painting is called ‘The Last Day in the Old Home’. Through the window on its left, we can see leaves turning golden and brown and branches starting to bare. It’s Autumn. The answer’s Autumn. Pick me, Miss. Fifty years ago, I’d have stuck up my hand.