Sunday, August 9, 2009

At least Sunday would bring respite, unless there was someone bringing jelly squares around...



My Mum found a new photo of herself from the archives. It's probably surrplanted even the 1ne her and her sisters rather camply hold pigeons, their London holiday rather dispelling the tortured poverty myth of their family I've grown up with. In this rather disturbing black and white Glaswegian tableaux of despair, her Mum holds a child rather uneasily on her knee while my Mum loiters in the background holding a cap gun, like the worlds most cheerful hostage taker. It's rare that a photograph interests me. I still dread Penguinian era slide nights, being strapped to my mothers knee as if restrained by a seatbelt as a tedious horribly jumpered neighbour would self importantly lecture us on an array of flora and fauna. I could see my Whiplash and Leech He-Man figures just out of reach, but I couldn't get them because the neighbour would be loading another carousel and I was was barred from leaving. I would have to console myself with wondering where I knew the neighbours from, whether I had seen them trying to steal a loaf of bread or arguing with the postman, or even just studying the attention to detail in their overly perky jumpers, the way the last sheep seemed to be so badly knitted. That was Penguin, a parade of horrific casual knitwear. When I pointed out to my Mum the strange nature of her childhood photos, she threatened to dig out photos of me when I was younger. This was not a good thing to say, because I hated having my photo taken. I still do to be honest. I've never loitered in the background of any photos holding a kind of firearm though, and my shots are all clean scrubbed and hold no form of social commentary. I know if she digs them out, I won't be smiling either, a modelesque pout is generally my way of getting through the torment. Even clad in a Primary school tracksuit in the glimmering knowledge I was the schools bright intellectual hope, I'm still pouting nervously for the camera according to the evidence of my 30th birthday photoboard montage, my apprehensive swept blonde hairdo a sign of a mind and body not entirely uncomfortable with itself, even with the devil may care feel of a nylon tracksuit on my side...

I'm amazed that my Mum would spend so much time wining and dining and socialising with Penguins elite and semi elite to be honest, especially armed with slides. She's not a sociable woman to be honest, keeping to a close circle of friends and phone contact. To think she let people into our house to show slides and flaunt their knitwear around our living room, to eat our Cheesels and stay in our house boring us with their anecdotes for far too long. 1ne of the main memories of my childhood in Penguin was the late afternoon search for Cheesels to cram into a wooden bowl just in case our guests got hungry in the middle of their long and involved stories. In truth, my contribution presuming I didn't have to stay for slides or get trapped into small talk about school - I was fortunate that unlike some of my cousins I displayed no musical talent whatsover so I didn't have to do a turn - was limited to a small wave and a handful of Cheesels before I was allowed back into my room to while away the hours. Since I didn't have my own TV, alas this deprived me of a glimpse of A Country Practice, but I couldn't complain. As an only child, I would go to bed early most nights anyway, but there was something claustrophobic about those banishments, because as Dr Hook or some other adult contemporary hoary old band would tinkle on the record player, I couldn't sleep anyway due to the loud thumping but safe rock strains, so I would lie for hours listening to raucous conversation and the munching of cheesy snacks, lying in the dark with some cotton sheets pulled over me huffing and puffing to no-one in particular that I wanted the noisy adults to keep quiet. In later years, they would perfect this art of noise to the point where they could have put it on stage. At around 2am at 1ne point every 2nd Sunday they would have a singalong to Elton Johns "Sacrifice" as regular as clockwork. As a child there was nothing I could do to complain about the noise. I could sometimes stumble up, pretend I was going to the toilet, eat a Cheesel from a bowl and look faux grumpy in the hope I'd be noticed and people would pay attention to me, but there were risks - being drawn into conversation, the possibility that slides were on the projector and worst of all the chance that I would be asked to adjudicate in some drunken trivia. So rather than answer what the capital of Bolivia was, I would huddle in my room, sheets over my head, and just wait until I heard the clunk click of seatbelts and the thud thud of car doors would act as a numbing lullaby...

The alternative to this bedtime banishment would be the inevitable put on some entertainment hour, a troupe of strange children piling into my (my!) bedroom, to pick at my toys and disrupt to cocoon of solitude that I had carefully constructed. In most cases, these thrust upon friendships would fade instantly, a concocted 1ne night stand as awkward as waking up in a strange girls house with no idea how you got there. Because they were in your home, they would be effort dressed, in a smart jumper and some tight pants, shoes shining at maximum glare, their hair combed neatly and thoughtfully, while I was allowed since it was my domain to loiter around in a tatty T-shirt and trackpants combination, officiously demanding that sticky fingered kids keep away from my stuff. The alternative was to be dragged out of the house into someone elses lair. My Dad had a procession of teacher friends, all bearded, who we would have 1ne date with until my Mum decided they were weird and my Dad would use her Glaswegian disdain for, say, charades or their taste in politics to never have to go their again, since it interrupted his nap time. Truthfully not many of these visits stand out - they remain a mystifying blur recollected only as 1ne giant trip in the back of the car to a strange street somewhere in Burnie, a large digital clock in the child I had to spend time with's room the only illumination. I was generally affable as a child, but I was especially affable if my new friend had a computer or some technological advance. I should have learned my lesson from my weekend at Daniels house where I played his Commodore 64 instead of playing volleyball with him and he rather spat the goo, but mostly natural charm and a knowledge of toys got me through. I think only 1ne of these playdates seems even remotely memorable, unless you want me to recount specific brands of toys, or the joys of antique toy boxes. Some of those things were worth messing up my Sunday best clothes to dive into, and risk of being shut in the box...

Her name was Wendy. She lived in a weird part of Burnie that had far more street lights that was essentially healthy. She had bug eyes and a ponytail and a whiny voice but a treasure chest of cool stuff, a computer, a cupboard full of shoes and several mysterious staircases with big spooky doors that lead under said staircase. Had I been a bit older I could have asked if Sarah Greene was sucked in there, but no one gets that in this day and age. Or back then to be honest. Her house was neat and tidy and the adults in it were restless and theatrical, pointing out the similarities between my 8eight year old self and Wendy as if they had arranged a marriage between us. If I had any lust at that point, it would have been for her Commodore 64. We didn't have much to say to each other, so we ended up in the kitchen at about 10en at night, eating sandwiches off a plate and waiting for my Mum to get bored or sleepy and drag us home in the Brown Torana. An age passed until Wendy had an idea. I was glad she had an idea, my theories on Tom and Jerry were just bouncing off her head. Wordlessly, she took all the drinks in the fridge - Fanta, Mello Yello, TAB, Orange Juice, Bottled Water, Milk, Ecto Cooler and several foaming and rather horrible scented liquers from what I can remember - she took all the drinks and poured into a pint glass, her eyes dancing with menace as she thrust the pint glass in my direction.

"Drink it," she said, making a drinking motion. The glass was full to the brim of a disgustingly coloured drink, and to top it off she stirred sugar and salt and cooking chocolate into it, until it was frankly the colour of bronchitis.

I shrugged and tried to back out of my dare. Like most boys my age, the prospect of anyone - let alone a girl rocking the Marty Feldman look and wearing a stripy top - flapping her arms and calling me a chicken with flappy arm mime to boot didn't appeal.

"No," I said, miming disinterest. Somewhat inevitably, I was compared to poultry, but I had an ace up my sleeve that I learned from a kid called Greg, who was able to turn down all dares with a simple catch all phrase. "Nup," I said, impersonating him as best I could, "it's duh-brained!"

Whether it was duh-brained or not was up for debate, but Wendy wasn't to be deterred. "Brett drank it!" she said. Whoever Brett was, his stomach was cast iron and his will determined. I imagined some 9ine year old super genius with man sized arms and the ability to take a tennis ball soaked in water right to the head and not even flinch. "Well then Bretts a duh brain!" I said, although my squeaky voice betrayed a certain envy of Brett that he was able to fulfil a dare. I expected more chicken noises, but Wendy took genuine offence to the dissing of Brett, lowered her eyes, poured the pint glass down the sink, and walked off to her room. 1ne hour later, my Mum came and found me eating a Rice Krispie Square off a ceramic plate, and we drove home, never to see that family again....

There were confusing girls, confusing social engagements, my Mother acting completely out of character, and even if I did pose for photos, it would still all have been strange. It was lucky that I was able to sleep in the car, and wake up in the safety of my room, He-Man figures lined up as a welcoming committee...

4 comments:

Kettle said...

Urgh horrific casual knitwear. Is there anything worse? My crazy aunt was famous in our family for it. What did you hate the most, Miles, the koalas or the Australian flora?

And go on, what's the sticky with Sarah Greene?

Miles McClagan said...

I really like the phrase smart casual, that's a funny phrase. But I hate casual knitwear. Those hideous Jenny Kee nightmares...it was always the koala for me. So sprightly and camp, nothing like real life!

As for Sarah Greene - there was a show on called Ghostwatch in the early 90tys. Faux documentary, hosted by Micky P Parkinson, everyone got terrified thinking it was real, and at the end Sarah Greene gets sucked under the stairs by an evil ghost...NO ONE has ever got my reference to it!

the projectivist said...

in the olden days (the early 1970s) it was perfectly acceptable to serve guests with bowls of cheezels or little red or green pickled onions fresh from a jar or just nuts, salted ones.

now your guests have all kinds of high expectations!

a variety of middle eastern breads, fresh dips with drizzles of olive oil, the entire contents of Coles deli section, matured cheeses that cost more than a decent pair of shoes.

it's friggin outrageous!

Miles McClagan said...

I know - it's ridiculous isn't it? While I've never had a dinner party, the pressure I felt when I hosted my breakfast was ridiculous...

Fruit platter this, dip that...just wanted toast and cereal to be honest! And lots of Cheesels...I've given up now...