Our tablecloth is a large print of a world map. It covers a rather beautiful oak table that we bought in a moment of impulsive consumerism. We would rather like it to survive until after the children have left home, although I suspect it will continue to be covered for a long time after that, until one day our great grandchildren come to clear the house of our possessions and shout “I do declare – there was a beautiful oak table under here all along!”
But I digress. The tablecloth seems to initiate conversations and discussion with just about everybody who sits and has a cup of tea with us. For some people it’s a raised eyebrow and comment on how ‘interesting’ it is. For others it is a chance to indulge in some curiosity sating walks around the world with their fingers.
Our own family plan imaginary (hopefully real one day) trips and trace the steps of previous journeys and adventures; it is a tablecloth of dreams and desires. To add to the excitement our world is often populated with little extra islands of Weetabix and archipelagos of sticky cake crumbs.
When granddad comes to stay he uses it to show us all the places he went to and talks about the things that happened to him during his time in the navy during and after WW2. This visit he told us the story of Bermondsy Bill;
When he was billeted with a family in Hounslow – with Mrs Collier and her unattached 18 year old daughter Barbara, who was sent to accompany grandad on any and every errand and excursion he left the house for – he was sharing a room with another sailor called Bill, from Bermondsy. Bill didn’t particularly like the authority aspect of being in the navy and found it hard to bite his tongue at times.
Naturally this resulted in lots of ‘opportunities for Bill to reflect on his conduct’, but eventually he went a step too far and was transferred, disappearing from the house and the base overnight. He was replaced with a married man who spent all his spare time fiddling his leave and forging passes and tickets so he could visit his family in Torquay.
Some years later grandad ran into Bermondsy Bill again, at a transit camp in India. He found that Bill had been given a ‘special duty’ on a patrol boat in the Arctic Ocean. He spent his time shivering with cold, watching for German boats sneaking down from the North and crying himself to sleep at nights. He had never progressed beyond stoker and thought perhaps he maybe shouldn’t have answered back quite so much.
We all felt there was a moral in here somewhere, but I will let you decide for yourself what it is.
I once told a colleague that sheep that lived on hills had evolved over time to have two short and two long legs to help them balance.
It was not an altogether terrible lie, just an off the cuff, humorous remark as she was putting up a display with some rather beautiful fluffy white cotton wool sheep in the corridor.
What was terrible was that she believed me. Actually, if I’m being honest, that wasn’t the terrible bit either. Once I realised that she had been taken in I carried on. I produced photographic evidence, I persuaded other members of staff to agree with me and generally behaved in a childish and immature manner.
But it was funny. For all I know she still believes it to this day. I shudder to think how many children may have had this ‘fact’ passed on to them.
The only thing I can say in my defence – and this is very slim indeed – is that it is not as bad as the time that I was party to (but not the instigator of) a scheme to convince a new member of staff that the Christmas meal was traditionally a fancy dress event.
Cruel I know, but his three wise men costume was wonderful.
A long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, I used to be a Nursery teacher. I had my own little empire, largely shunned by the craven cowards in the Senior Management Team (Look, he’s laddered my stocking!) ably supported by Mrs Ward the Nursery Nurse (she had taught all the parents of the children we were now attempting to instil with a love of learning and an ability to go to the toilet at the right time ie – when they need to) and an army of tiny people.
This was in the East end of London, Bethnal Green. It was rumoured to be a tough place to teach, and to be fair I had been given a thorough initiation the previous year. Hit with walking sticks, losing children on trips, getting lost on trips, having all the pens nicked out of my drawer. There was nothing too traumatic, and certainly not enough to put me off my chosen career.
So I came to be teaching in the Nursery. If this is not your area of expertise you may not be familiar with the importance of outdoor play, the door is always open and the playground is just an extension of the classroom. Bikes, scooters, balls, a sand pit, a gardening area and a climbing frame. I spent a lot of time out there and enjoyed it all.
The only time I recall the door staying closed was when it snowed. The children were desperate to get outside, we carefully suited and booted them, wrapped up warm, and set off out to make snowmen and tracks in the snow and write our names on the icy windows. Within minutes all the children had turned tail and headed back into the warm, leaving me standing alone in the middle of a snow filled playground.
Anyway, one day when it was not snowy we were outside when a workman came to fix something on the outside of one the flats beyond our fence. The children crowded round fascinated, trying to guess what he was fixing, seeing what tools he was using, deciding what he might be having for lunch and other important learning opportunities provided for us on that sunny morning.
Suddenly a voice piped up. Louder than the others, it was Stephen. Quiet, shy, unassuming Stephen.
No response, so he repeated;
The man looked over.
“Oi Mr, are you from the council?”
He was engaging, he was starting a dialogue, he was initiating a learning discourse. I was so happy.
“Yes I am” replied the man.
“Well when are you coming to fix my Mum’s bl***y window.”
To this day I am certain that I learnt something that day, but to this day I am also certain I could not tell you what it was.