Saturday, December 31, 2016

Twelve Days of Christmas: 4 Days PC

As the decorations start to come down in the Bogsy household, it occurs to me that this festive season I haven’t been dressed up as Santa. Just to be clear, that isn’t an annual event for me, but every now and then I like to slip into  a Mr or, more memorably perhaps, a Mrs Claus outfit to delight and scare friends, family and colleagues in equal measure.
The whole business started way back in Boots the Chemists on the high street of Bridgwater, Somerset. I’d been working there as a Saturday shop assistant, primarily in the cookware section, pretending I knew  how to assemble a food processor, or what to use a palette knife for. Clearly I had made quite an impression, or perhaps it was me being the only bloke around, that led them to ask me to dress up as Father Christmas that year. My mission, should I accept it, was to wander around the store looking jolly and offering small children chocolates from my tin. These days I would probably have been arrested.
I cringe now to think of that lanky, spotty teenager, with the cheap Santa gown stuffed with a cushion to try to achieve the required level of portliness. What an unconvincing sight I must have been.
I wonder if this slightly traumatic experience led me, about thirty years later, to go for the female version, although what possessed me to bring her out at a works Christmas party I’m not sure. I have to say I scrubbed up pretty well in my short red, fur-trimmed sleeveless number, with matching red heels, and long blonde wig. Contrary to popular myth, I did not travel like that to work. I discreetly hid myself in a toilet to get changed. I had to get a little assistance from a little assistant, Julie, who was the only one in on the surprise. She nearly collapsed with laughter when I opened the loo door and beckoned her in to help me. I think she’d been expecting a slightly more homely, cuddly Mrs Claus, rather than the vision before her, which looked like it had stepped straight out of a strip club. She must have felt suddenly quite normal in her green elf suit, as she helped me along the corridor to the party. Thank goodness there were no students around – the sight of the two of us could have made them question their mental health.
Photographic evidence does exist and may well prevent any further promotions. It tends to be used as a kind of initiation for new staff. Normally within their first week, they get to see the legendary photos. The strong ones stay on, disturbed but better prepared for what may lay ahead. Perhaps next year I need to test that resolve.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Twelve Days of Christmas: 3 Days PC

I am a little late publishing this post, for which my excuse  is a combination of things – braving the crowds to go shoe shopping, a trip to the cinema and being determined to finish my latest audio book, which was Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult.
The novel is no easy read – full of quite detailed examples of hatred, racism and discrimination. Amongst all that uncomfortable, disturbing stuff there are a few welcome moments of humour. My favourite was when one of the main characters, a white female lawyer, is talking about a meeting she has to attend at one of the state prisons to try to get them to allow her entry without the indignation of having to remove her under-wire bra which keeps setting off the metal detector on the way in. Brilliantly, she refers to this meeting as the ‘itty-bitty titty committee’.
I wonder if I can find a legitimate reason to use this phrase at work. Perhaps if there is a discussion about our policy on breast-feeding at work then I might get the chance. Alternatively, I might have to come up with some of my own.
If we’re asked to participate in a scheme to make the city centre more attractive, we might need an itty-bitty pretty city committee.
Or, if we want to organise a humorous poetry competition, then the judging panel could be the itty-bitty witty ditty committee.
If one of the local museums is putting on an exhibition of famous cinema cars, we might want to set up an itty-bitty chitty-chitty committee.
And if our gardeners complain about stray cats defecating on their beautiful borders, we might have to instigate an itty-bitty shitty kitty committee.
As you can tell, I was deeply moved by the book. No, actually it was very good, though quite distressing to read in parts. Likewise ‘I Daniel Blake’ which was the film we saw. Not one for a bit of festive cheer, but very worthwhile. I admire these writers who set out to hold up a mirror which reflects a picture most of us choose to ignore or not recognise. Both the book and the film did a good job of reminding me how bloody hard some peoples’ lives are and how lucky I am to have the problem of shoe shopping .

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Twelve Days of Christmas: 2 days PC

It’s been a strange year and, for many of us, a sad one with the loss of what seems like so many of our great entertainers and musical artists. The news of George Michael’s early death seemed to me to be a very sad end for someone who offered so much.
I was no big fan of his, but like Bowie and Prince, he formed part of my formative years, creating songs that will stay with me until I go the same way.
I vividly remember my excitement one Christmas in the early 80s, unwrapping the Fantastic album that Santa had left me. It was a cheese-fest of pure pop, but I loved it. Only this summer, on a walking holiday in Bulgaria, I was delighted to entertain/frighten the other walkers with a rather drunken rendition of ‘Wham Rap’.  The Brits abroad, eh? I even managed to record it as part of an audio diary mash-up so my fellow walkers can enjoy the experience over and over, the lucky things.
My second abiding memory prompted by this week’s sad news was of me and a friend, dancing in a barn somewhere in deepest, darkest Somerset – I don’t remember the exact location – at a young Farmer’s disco. Fuelled by scrumpy, we were no doubt hopeful that our hot moves to ‘Wake me up before you go-go’ would be so uncannily like George and Andrew that we would have young farmers’ daughters flocking. I don’t remember much else, which clearly signifies that our ‘young guns’ went unfired that night.
I think, if I’m honest, the loss of these legends is a reminder of our own mortality – people we grew up with moving on and we know we won’t be so far behind them.  Best make the most of it then.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Twelve Days of Christmas: Boxing Day

You may not know that Boxing Day is so called because it’s the day in the year when you have to work out what the hell you are going to do with all the boxes left over from the day before. In our house, this now extends to the dinner as well as the gifts, since we have become very lazy and prefer the kind of ready-meal dinner option. The tricky part is not how to cook the dinner, as this is clearly printed on the labels it’s how to heat it up in the right order so that everything is ready to eat at the same time.
Actually, I take that back. The really tricky part, at least for a certain Mrs B, is reading the order confirmation correctly. We had dragged ourselves out of bed last Friday (remember, I was full of cold and deserving much sympathy) to go and collect our food from the local M&S at the allotted time of 8.30-9am. Feeling ever so slightly smug at having got ourselves there nice and early, beating the crowds, we presented ourselves at the desk. Rather than a cheery ‘ho ho ho’ from the shop assistant, we were told ‘computer says no, no, no’. Imagine how we laughed when we were told that our allocated pick up slot was 8.30-9pm.
So, when you get to the stage where even a ready-meal Christmas dinner is a bit too hard to cope with, what is next? Time for the kids to take over perhaps? Or how old do you need to be to qualify for meals on wheels?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Twelve Days of Christmas: Christmas Day

Here's a Christmas-themed story I wrote a few years back. It was for a creative writing competition with the theme of disability. I don't know much about autism, but wanted to have a go at putting the condition at the centre of my story. I shared it with a friend who has an autistic son and was reassured by her response. It also makes a nice change for me to write about a disability other than sight loss. I hope you like it.
My Jack is Joseph
I must have stood for a few seconds outside the school hall, gripping the cold brass door handle and taking deep breaths. For that brief time I was frozen by the fear of what was to come and the certainty that it would all be my fault. Caught in the headlights of public humiliation, I didn’t know whether to enter the hall or turn on my heels and run. Thankfully, one of the other mums came into the lobby and jolted me back into action with a cheery “Morning Mrs Cartwright, here we go again, eh? I hear your Jack’s got a part this year’.
I didn’t have the foggiest whose mum she was, but as usual, the voice was full of familiarity and tinged with sympathy. She, of course, knew my name – everyone seemed to know Mrs Cartwright, the one with the boy in Mrs Brent’s class, the strange lad who keeps colouring in the mortar between bricks, the one who won’t eat his lunch unless there are exactly six knives, six forks and six spoons on the table, the boy who, when the Head tried to help him with his shoelaces, told him to “Fuck off and die”.
I forced my usual tired smile and said “Yes, my Jack is Joseph”, before taking one more deep breath and pulling open the wide wooden door. I quickly found a seat near the front which, to my amazement, the school had remembered to reserve for me. I put this down to an act of self-preservation more than empathetic forethought. After all, if Jack started kicking off they sure as hell didn’t want me stuck in the back row. But it was welcome all the same. It was a sign that they were finally learning to cope with me and Jack. There’d been so many occasions where they had just put him down as ‘too difficult’ to include, ‘too disruptive’ for the other children. It was ‘easier all round’ if he was kept out of most activities – ‘for his own benefit’ they said.
Which is why I had no doubt that the whispered chatter that morning behind me was focused on my Jack, and what on earth the school was thinking of, giving him a major part in the nativity. They’d even been asked not to take photographs of their little angels this year. “Yes” I’d said to the Head, “I know it won’t be popular with the other parents, but don’t you think they’d be even more hacked off if Joseph spent the whole of the nativity imitating a bloody shutter noise.” At which point I remember looking into his tight, weary face and seeing a look of resignation. This was the look that I’d grown accustomed to seeking in other people, especially people in authority. Ever since Jack had been given his Autism diagnosis, I’d spent most of my life wearing people down so that they run out of reasons to say no. So when Mrs Brent had told me that Jack would make a ‘super sheep’ yet again this year I wasted no time in meeting the Head to begin the attrition process. “Why is he in a mainstream school, Mr Wilson?” I demanded to the pale-faced Head as he stroked his forehead, desperately trying to get his brain to think of a way of getting rid of me. Before he could find one I continued, “Not so he can be a sodding sheep every year, Mr Wilson. Let’s face it; his exam results aren’t going to be up to much, are they? So what else can he achieve, Mr Wilson, if he’s always in the background, kept out of the way?” Having fired a couple of my best shots, I’d kept the ‘legal obligations’ argument loaded in the barrel. He was already wounded and by the look on his face I wouldn’t need to finish him off – a submission was on the way.
In the hall, Mr Wilson sat at the piano, flicking nervously through the music and making sure he did not catch my eye. I’d seen from previous years that he found this type of event awkward, so my Jack’s starring role would be doing nothing to calm his nerves. When he rose to welcome us all his voice was dry and stuttering. “I do hope you all enjoy it,” he said, letting himself look at me for the first time. ‘So do I pal’ I thought and shot him a smile that said ‘thank you’.
As the music started, Jack, along with a young-looking Mary and a rather wobbly donkey, marched onto the stage. I held my breath as Jack turned to see the crowded room, full of strange, gawping faces, and I wondered if it would just be too much for him. His eyes danced across the parents until they met mine and then his face relaxed and a broad grin spread across it. Then he did something which I will never forget – it only took a second or two, but I’ve cherished it ever since, like a tiny gemstone. Visibly proud of himself in his costume of old green curtains and tea-towel headgear, he stopped a moment, his bright, hazel eyes fixed on mine and raised a thumb to me. That simple gesture was, to me, a rare moment, a sign that we were in the same place that he knew I was there for him, and that he wanted to reassure me that he was alright.
I keep that little gemstone carefully wrapped and I regularly check that it’s still there. Whenever times are dark or desperate I pull it out again, dust it off and admire its brilliant light. There have been many dark times, when I wondered if we were in the same world, wondered if we would ever have that connection taken for granted by most mums and their kids. Like the time when, without thinking, I told Jack to ‘get his skates on’ or we’d be late for school. He spent the rest of the morning stretched out on the hall floor, screaming for skates which I had binned months ago. I spent the morning in the porch, hat and gloves on, ready to go. I sat, slumped against the porch door, my face against the cold, frosted glass and my tears ran down it like rain on a window. I felt like this was the rest of my life captured in that one place. To one side, through opaque glass, a boy I loved but couldn’t get to because his glass was just so bloody opaque it wouldn’t let me see the true Jack. On the other, a door to the outside world. Between Jack’s sobs I could hear the sound of wind blowing through trees, children playing, people getting on with their normal lives, while I sat, trapped in a small place with doors either side but no obvious way out.
At the end of the play, which went broadly as planned, I was bursting with pride and probably the first to start clapping. I was also the first to stop, as I saw Jack’s familiar distressed frown at the noise. I put my hands over my ears and he followed suit.  On the short walk home I held his little hand so tightly he must have thought he was in trouble. “You were brilliant!” I said to him. “Yes,” he said thoughtfully. “But I want to be a sheep next time Mum.”

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Twelve Days of Christmas: 1 Day BC

Christmas is, after all, a time for giving. And I had given myself a lovely new wireless speaker, which now takes pride of place on the bookshelf in our lounge.
I was busy showing it off to Alex and her friend Rachel, who had stayed over following the party. Running through various songs, cranking up the volume to demonstrate the lovely, smooth bass, and gorgeous mid-tones.
Yes, they were suitably impressed. Until, that is, Alex suddenly asks “Where’s the nativity?”
“The what?” I respond, searching through a playlist to find another song that will adequately demonstrate the prowess of my new gadget.
“The nativity. It’s normally on the shelf, where you’ve put the speaker.”
This was a correct observation, but until then I had forgotten all about the nativity, which I guessed was still packed away somewhere upstairs in the loft. Although I’m not a religious person by any means, I did feel a slight pang of guilt. Poor baby Jesus, Joseph and Mary, and the sheep and wise men all packed away up there in the cold, damp loft, all dark and alone.  How could I be so thoughtless? So I turn up the volume a bit. There, I think, they can hear it too now.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

12 Days of Christmas: 2 Days BC

Well, it turns out that the answer to the question “Who names these storms?” is “We do”. Apparently the Met Office names our storms, but based on recommendations from the public.  And as well as Barbara, we can look forward to storms this winter called Doris, Fleur and Penelope.  I suppose we should be grateful that there isn’t one called Windy McWindbottom, or something similar.
Anyway, Barbara came a knockin’ last night but didn’t delay Alex’s arrival, or a whole bunch of friends and colleagues who joined us for a few drinks. The teenagers were, of course, loud and messy, generously leaving their mark on the dining room carpet, the little cherubs. Apparently three of the girls managed to go to the loo together. Nothing unusual you might think. But in the toilet under the stairs? You can literally sit on the lav and brush your teeth in there. I’m not sure whether to be appalled or impressed.
It’s given me an idea for a new party game for Christmas Day. Might have to do it before lunch, though, especially with all those sprouts. “Right Grandma,jump up onto the cistern. We’re getting the dogs in now”.