A thing that happened was
Jonathan ‘Rowdy’ Elliott, and a mini Dani on his locker
HIGH ON IT
For six whole weeks I got to go to school in Liverpool. (I was staying with my grandparents while my Mum was working away). I popped up mid-term, as a Special Visitor, and I took to the role like a six-year-old drug addict, high on the free milk, and the freedom of being able to raid the school’s craft supplies.
Sure, some of the other kids tried to clip my Special Visitor’s wings.
“Why does she get to use everything?” said one little kid with a memorably whiney voice, but an entirely forgettable face. Or maybe it was just that my eyes were trained, like greedy lasers, on the felt covered plastic pot that I was bedazzling with ALLLLLLLL the sequins and the buttons and the stars…until the pot was practically creased in on itself with the weight.
I kept my eyes on my sequins as the teacher shushed him. ‘Be nice to our Visitor now’.
To drink all the milk.
It was intoxicating.
My Dad had two signature dishes. Savoury mince (as opposed to sweet mince?). And a plate pie – where he would cut around a glass plate, to fashion the pastry for the top. Neither were ideal for a meat-hating kid like me, who refused to go into a butcher shop at age four because…well, dead pigs, hanging from their back trotters in the window…it’s not a welcoming look.
But at age nine my Dad invested in a wok. I was excited. He heated it up. It sizzled. It smoked. It smoked some more. My Dad’s swearing drowned out the sizzling. He went at the contents of the wok with a wooden spatula. He jabbed, he scraped, he swore some more. And then, with a strangled war cry, he wheeled around, stalked out of the back door, down the garden, and hurled the wok into a patch of long grass.
The wok was never mentioned again. Well, not until two days later when we found out that Corky, one of the neighbour’s cats, was sick. It turned out that Corky was allergic to pork. And Corky had been enjoying the garden buffet of incinerated sweet and sour pork.
Corky did survive.
And I am firmly vegetarian.
My Dad was incredibly smart, but not good at choosing cars. They tended to blow up and break down a lot. One such beast was a blue, low riding thing with two seats, a very long nose, and headlights that were meant to flip up or lay down flat. (They did this based on whimsy, not whether they were actually needed.)
After the second very expensive time of replacing the engine, the car was still grumbling to a halt at very inconvenient times. One night, my Dad was swearing about it to the neighbours (…the ones with the allergic cat, and also Denise, a sweet 20-something who worked in a nursing home and wore cardigans all year round.) Being a problem-solving type of child, I came up with a solution and proposed it.
“What about if you had the car ‘stolen’ and then used the insurance money to get a different one?”
I remember my Dad opening his mouth, but no words coming out.
The neighbours swapped some sideways looks, and the silence grew thicker until Denise politely offered, “Out of the mouths of babes?”
The car was ‘stolen’ five days later. Some late-night eavesdropping on my part revealed that I was not the criminal mastermind. The plan was already in train. But I…had predicted it? A clairvoyant? Or… a criminal in the making?
I won a lot of prizes at school. I made it my mission. If I there was a certificate, shield, or trophy I wanted it in my hands. (Unless it was sports. They didn’t count. They were pointless, and I had zero skills with balls.)
In the academic arena, my chosen stomping ground, relentless winning was not a popular look. There was much muttering amongst my class mates about ‘giving other people a chance’. But as far as I was concerned, they had their chances. They just weren’t motivated enough to half-kill themselves in pursuit of the prize.
This fervour was all very well until it came to group projects. One such challenge was ‘to create a newspaper by the end of the week’. I was assigned to a group of four. One of these four was a quiet girl, who wore her hair in long, feathery bunches. Her name was Hannah Meadows. Everything about her was too soft and slow for me.
I had fantasies of throwing her out of the group. Into the waves? The wastelands? Maybe I could over-ride the teacher and shove her into another group. She was dragging us all down. I needed to rewrite her article, but knew that my handwriting would be a dead giveaway. We all had to look like WE WERE CONTRIBUTING. (Now if we had been in the era where things were typed….)
So, my only option was to be ‘helpful’, right at her elbow, spurring her on, with my word choices, as she wrote it again. I was a literal dictator. (Hannah I am sorry!)
And…it turned out, there was no prize. It was a false promise. I don’t think the teacher even declared who won.
I do know, and I quote verbatim, that Miss Wildman the sports teacher wrote in my report that year, ‘Danielle lacks the aggressive nature needed to be a good hockey player.’ She was right. And wrong. I just didn’t care enough about balls.
I’ve been thinking about a couple of different things this week.
One is that I lent my copy of Georgia Pritchett’s brilliant memoir to my husband. He loves it too, but has had some quite different responses to me. The conversations we’ve had about it have just made me even more obsessed with Georgia’s work. (You have to read it!)
And the second thing was a podcast interview that I did with the comedy genius, Chris Head, where we talked about ’emotional grounding’.
I know, for sure, that I want to write fiction, not memoir. But I thought it would be good to write some short things this week that aren’t fictionalised. (Unless it’s at the hands of faulty memory. I tried to pick ones where I would testify to the details! )