One late December in the early eighties my mother told me that she was taking an assertiveness training course.
I thought she must mean teaching the course. She must have had concrete vocal cords she was able to shout so much; and when she wasn't able to shout directly at me, i.e. with me physically there, she would leave notes by the kettle:
''When you've finished doing your impression of your father's mother - she didn't get up before midday, slagged around in her housecoat stinking of cheesy wee, only combed her hair that once when the vicar was coming to see over about grandfather's dead body in the back bedroom - then can I just point out that contrary to what would seem to be your belief Cariad's litter tray is not self-emptying.' Or:
'You will go to the Pride of London where your bastard of a father is singing Sunday and collect my maintenance payment. Or you can forget being treated to your usual Thursday Chicken Hawaiian Style in Victoria with Croquette Potatoes and sweetcorn and a sugar cube put in your Fanta to take the fizz out because it brings on your asthma.' Or:
'Clean the fucking cheese drawer in the fucking fridge.'
I asked where she was teaching the assertiveness training course. 'As part of the adult education classes at Vauxhall College?'
She said, 'I've made a new year's resolution to stop backpedalling in life. I'm attending an assertiveness training course. Try and be supportive and not always so hurtfully undermining.'
Her face was looking suddenly in need of nappy rash cream.
I blurted out, 'Oh for god's sake, who would possibly have anything to teach you about assertiveness? The Gestapo? Pol Pot? Papa Doc?'
For six months she wouldn't even leave me notes by the kettle.