Tuesday, 15 December 2015

My Mother the Grass

  Remember this?
  When I was investigated by the council for possible housing benefit fraud... 
  
 I told Ms Jonas that I didn't dare fiddle - my mother had designated herself a modern day Aequitas, Goddess of Fair Dealing in Contracts, Kennington Subdivision. 
  The first day of spring term when I was seven she rang the headmaster of Holy Trinity, Mr Tonge, to tell him that my father was at that very moment taking me to school the very long way round via Lower Marsh market.  
  'He's buying Iestyn a bran new daffodil in a pot to pass off as the one he was given to nurture over the Christmas Holidays as the school project. Overwatered it.  Killed it. Dead.'
  When I was thirteen she rang Mrs Spinoza, Head of Housecraft at Archbishop Michael Ramsey Secondary School, and shopped me for not sifting the flour into my homework apple crumble. 
  'And I doubt if what I've noticed him sewing at home is part of the curriculum for a church school, either.'
  Then there was what she did to my father when he signed off sick to appear at a Country and Western festival in Cornwall...
  His bookings had dried up in the early eighties and he went to work for Battersea Council on the bin lorries. Half way into his three-month contract, impresario Tex Withers offered him two weeks compering at the El Paso, St Austell - Archie and his Aspergic Afghans having cried off with mange, or whatever the crisis was. My father saw Dr Halfpenny, paid however much it was for a sicknote, headed down to Cornwall. 
  When the sick giros came through in his absence my mother took them straight down to the Battersea Council offices and asked to see my father's line manager. 
  Being my mother, she then entered Ned Simmons's office without knocking, told him not to have the curtains drawn all the way back as it was common, and said that if he wanted to avoid slip discs before he got much older he should think about not slouching like that, shouldn't he?
  'Right, now. Terry Edwards. My husband. Got these sick giros through the post.  Not entitled.  Singing in Cornwall, not sick under the doctor.' 
  Oh, and now, Ned, was it? - could stop looking at her like that. Terry given him the sob lifestory, had he? Well...god, all the way on the bus from the Albert Embankment she'd come, any thought towards a cup of tea, she was parched? Well - as she was saying - well - Terry's mother didn't die, he was taken away from her for neglect. Then he was adopted by his paternal grandmother.  Gran Evans, everyone called her that, had the Toby Jogs, glass eye, small holding. Would need the help, as it turned out. Come a few years, she knew, those chickens would be too much for her. Let alone the pigs, goats and the llama she thought was another kid billy goat, with the swollen head being due to suction cup delivery. 
  No biscuits with the tea she had to plead for in the first place, then?
  Anyway, right, now we'd come to it - where Terry gets his lies from: his mother. As we knew, taken away from her, right, ended up on the small-holding? So her photo album was a tissue of lies. Had to be. He wasn't there in Station Road, he was up the hill. 'Look, beautiful, embossed,' his mother would say, holding the album for you to look at. 'The record of my boy Terry growing up with me.'
  Tragic really, if you didn't laugh. Because his mother was, obvious, borrowing him back from his grandmother's smallholding and hiring the photographer up from Gilfach Street. So there he was smiling out from all the archetypal childhood events: measles, mumps, chicken pox. Then there's one photo where he looks pale but there were no other visible symptoms. Whooping Cough, his mother do have to explain. Would have been best to include a little recording with that one, maybe, like in those old reading books where the fairy bell would ding to let you know to turn the page. Tried to read the Snow White version of those to Gareth David when he was just walking, ding, turned the page, there was the wicked queen magicked into the pimply old woman with the apple and one tooth - he was so scared he shat himself. 
  Anyway, back to the album of tragedy. Terry's whooping cough, first day at infants', first day at juniors', first day at secondary school. Right up to the one of him lying on an unmade bed proudly showing the stain from his first wet dream.*
  So, talking of lies, then, Ned could take these giros back.
  And perhaps think about some nice Willow Pattern tea things for when he had guests in his office for tea, rather than these workaday municipal ones.


  

* I've invented that last example as a punchline for when I perform the story onstage.


  

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