You're a baby on a bed and shitting the covers. Your mother is out somewhere. She's left the landlady to look after you. This goes on for quite a while, until the landlady gives your mother a ticking-off, reminds her whose baby this is.
You're around 4 or 5 and something you've done has provoked your mother to pick you up by your hair and then drop you and kick you, pick you up, drop you, kick you. You travel across the lounge floor, and all the while she's screaming.
You're around 5 or 6, and something has made you cry. Your mother has this vicious expression. Her hand is raised to slap you across the face. She's shouting at you: 'Smile...smile!' You're whimpering, but you make a smile (this happens often).
You're 6 or 7, and your mother and father have furious, violent arguments, so bad that your father loses all sense at one point and hits a wall with his fist and breaks some of his knuckles. You're in a corner and you've wet yourself. These terrible arguments go on for the rest of their marriage.
You're 9 or 10, and your mother spends all day at the town swimming pool. This is South Africa and a 'boy' comes to clean the flat. She doesn't have to do a thing. You come home after school and there's no-one there, and when she comes back - utterly uninterested in what you've done that day - she makes dinner. But she's in a bad sulky mood and the pots and pans are banging in the kitchen, and she can barely provide a meal. Later on, we fill-up with bags of chocolates. You get fat.
Your father had a bad fall off a bus as a conductor during the time your mother was pregnant with you. This necessitated a 'plate' being placed in his skull. Throughout your boyhood, you register your father as someone who has something wrong with him. From time to time, a doctor comes in and gives him an injection which knocks him out. While your father is in the next room sleeping - sometimes for a whole day - you have to be intensely quiet: you can't do a thing, the atmosphere is immensely tense. When he wakes up, all you want to hear is that he is well again. There's such a dread, and it's crushing when he says he feels the same. Your mother gets a nasty face and loses what little patience she has.
You're 10 or 11, and you're walking down the street with your mother and her friend. You espy a car abandoned in a field. You're full of the wonder of language, and you point out the car, calling it a 'jalopy'. Your mother sneers at you, says, 'you've just been waiting to say that, haven't you?' You're filled with shame. Maybe there were times before then when your mother sneered at you, but this registers deeply, and it's a lesson in what you will receive as her scorn for the next 50 years of your life. Everything you do in the future, she will either snigger at - you're so weird - or comment that you were bright but wasted whatever you had, and thus a failure.
By the time you're 15 or 16, you're with your parents in England and things are seriously falling apart.
Unbeknownst to you, your father has defrauded the company he works for out of a lot of money.
He's taking sleeping pills, but won't go to bed and watches television. Your mother is standing at the bottom of the stairs screaming, you're weak! you're weak! He's not able to answer because the drugs have stupefied him. More than once the cigarette in his fingers burns down and horribly blisters him. You hear him late at night stagger up the stairs, falling, crashing, on the way.
At 16 or 17, you mother dominates everything. Your father is at work in the City, commuting five days a week, and your mother spends all her time lolling in her sister's - your aunt's - garden. She doesn't have to do a thing. Yet, like the old days, she comes home and bangs about the kitchen in the evening putting some sort of food together when your father comes home, and on Sundays, when your father has every right to relax, she allows an hour of reading the papers in the mornings, then you hear this unnecessary noise she's making and you know this is a signal for you and your father to get up and clean and dust and hoover the flat. She will soon tell you, with sharpness and asperity, if you haven't done the job well.
In the afternoon - every single Sunday afternoon - it's time to go over to your aunt's.
Your father has his movie camera (purchased from the fraud) and we play-out in front of it. We do all sorts of 'fun' things.
You have the videos now of that time. You're the one who's looking nervy, uncomfortable, but commanded to be smiling, getting up to high-jinks, dancing, being the fool.
Your father doesn't have much future left.
When you're 22, he's felled by a heart attack. He's 42. He's in the centre of town, looking to buy a present for your mother's birthday. He falls flat over, and later you're given a buff envelope which includes his spectacles. They're caked in blood.
There's just you and your mother left. She's filled with grief, and you're in grief too.
She doesn't share in that grief with you.
She's just irritated with you, as always.
Monday, 22 April 2013
Circa 1990, I lived and worked on the island of Mytilini (Lesvos) as a teacher of English in a private school.
I didn't teach in the main town, but in Papados, one of the seven villages that come together administratively in the interior.
The video, around 1.30, glimpses the school at which I taught for two years.
I'd like so much to write now about the school - the wonderful students, the ramshackle (and very cold and very hot) premises, my scary lady-boss - but, really, who cares?
I'm just one of millions of people who at any time live and die, and what happens to most of us has barely or no effect on anybody else in the larger world. We're just passing through.
Yet, while we're still about, hopefully we all experience love and the sweetness to care for those we care about, however few or great our resources.
Wednesday, 10 April 2013
When I was boy I lived in South Africa. Every day after school I'd go down to the beach and swim. But even before then, just when I was five or six, my father would put me on his shoulders and take me out to the waves well beyond the reach of sand. I wasn't frightened. I was exhilarated.
From then onwards into my early teens, the sea was this very wonderful thing that burst over you, pushed salt into your mouth and stung your eyes, that sometimes surged and took you under. In the turbulence you sought to find surface and air. But when you shot up, gasping, gaining breath, orienting for an instant sky and land, you dove back in again. You couldn't have enough of it.
It was a very profound sort of language.