The budding poet soon suspects
The pointlessness of: Solve for x
The budding poet soon suspects
The pointlessness of: Solve for x
I’ve not written for some time but I’m now posting again.
The thing is, I have friends in Ukraine whom I’ve known for a great many years. I visit them once, sometimes twice, annually so it’s been tough watching recent events in the news. I travelled there in October when the signs of war were increasingly ominous and I’ve not stopped worrying about them since.
I’m a teacher and during the recent Easter break I journeyed to Ukraine to see these same friends. This time, however, the trip wasn’t so straightforward as it required flying into a neighbouring country, taking trains, boarding buses then crossing the border on foot.
I didn’t go there as a mercenary. My sole mission was to deliver medicines and other necessities whilst checking on the wellbeing of my friends. Given the circumstances, most are holding up quite well but I’m sure there’s loads they’re not telling me.
That’s because they don’t want me to worry.
Can you imagine that?
After an unforgettable week followed by some tearful goodbyes, I made my way back across the border and flew home.
Back to teaching.
Back to writing.
Back to normal.
Randomly flicking through the TV channels I happened upon a show called Child Genius, a programme whose aim is to discover which children in Britain have never been allowed to climb a tree, drink Fanta and make friends their own age. Contestants range in age from 8 – 12 in Earth years and from what I gather there are only two eligibility requirements: they must dress like Puritans and manage their own hedge fund. As for the parents, alas, there are no rules otherwise these same kids would be attending birthday parties and dancing to K-pop.
One distinctive family comprised Calliope (the child genius), Octavia (her overbearing mother), Peregrine (her hipster father) and 4 year-old twin brothers, as yet unnamed.
“We’re waiting for a Labour government first because then the whole ordeal will be less traumatic for them,” Peregrine explained.
“Watch out for the fat one – he’s a biter. He ate three of the gerbils in my control group,” Calliope warned. “Octavia, it’s 3 o’clock.”
Interviewer: What happens at 3 o’clock?
“I give Calliope her feed.”
Interviewer: Her what?
“She’s still on breast milk,” Octavia stated matter-of-factly, now fumbling underneath her burka. “Excuse me for a minute. I’m afraid these are more form over function.”
Interviewer: I was going to ask you about that, actually. Isn’t that a Peperami in your bag?
“Oh, I’m not Muslim,” she grimaced. “I don’t even believe in God. It’s more of a statement.”
Interviewer: Got it, but getting back to the feed: are you telling us that Calliope has lived on nothing but breast milk since she was born?
“Oh, no. I add my own juices to it as well.”
[viewers stopped eating at this point]
Interviewer: Please, God, tell me we’re talking about lemon grass.
“I have a juicer for vegetables and fruit,” Octavia confirmed, “but I also have all their placentas in the freez-“”
It was a shame really because Calliope seemed like a nice kid who wasn’t bothered whether or not she won Child Genius. Octavia, however, was on a mission. After years of subjecting her first born to stem cell shakes and hyperbaric chambers, this TV programme would vindicate her once and for all. After all, it wasn’t about the children; she was the true genius and, by her own calculations, Calliope only needed to make it to Week 4 before TV producers and the viewing public realized this. After that it would be book deals, speaking tours and Oprah.
Interviewer: Calliope, do you have any regrets about coming onto the progreamme? Did you ask to come on it?
“To be honest, I’d rather be doing something else,” she wrinkled her nose.
Interviewer: Playing with your gerbils?
“Gambling online. Every minute I’m in this stupid studio I’m losing money.”
Interviewer: I beg your pardon?
“My game’s Poker. Last night I was about to beat the bubble until my Aces got cracked. I ended up folding faster than Superman on wash day. I looked like a total fish,” she rolled her eyes.
Interviewer: Uh, okay. So you won’t be going to Oxford then?
“Oh, I’ll be going to Oxford,” she arched an eyebrow, “but it won’t be Flash Cards I’ll be playing with, if you catch my drift.”
Interviewer: How will you balance gambling with your studies? And is it even legal? You’re too young to gamble, aren’t you?
Calliope discreetly opened her Frozen II pencil case to reveal a wad of crisp one-hundred dollar bills. Drawing one out, she folded it expertly with one hand until she’d fashioned a small fish, which she handed to me.
“Why don’t you go buy yourself something pretty and leave the legal stuff to me? After all, who’s the genius here?” she asked, morphing from Girl Guide to Al Capone before my eyes.
Interviewer: What about your mother’s plans for you?
“Octavia’s seeking validation but it can’t come through me. Her insecurities stem from a lifetime’s inability to rise above her own mediocrity. The whole breastfeeding thing’s a manifestation of it: she believes she’s passing on matriarchal wisdom when she pumps that junk which, for the record, I pour straight down the drain. I prefer a single malt – it keeps me clear-headed.”
Interviewer: Won’t she be disappointed though?
“When isn’t she? Look, do you want me to wrap this up nice and neatly for your viewers at home? Give them my take on life?”
Interviewer: Please, do.
“Okay, here we go… in life, you need to play the hand you’re dealt. If you don’t like the dealer, switch tables and if you don’t like the odds, switch games. Then again…” she said coyly, throwing a piece of popcorn into the air and catching it in her mouth, “I’m just a kid, so what do I know?”
When Alexander Graham Bell
Phoned Mr Watson he knew well
The pair of friends would make a killing
By next inventing monthly billing
The rule for fractions when you’re young?
It’s two-thirds’ brains
And one-third tongue
In this age of doublespeak, I’ve come up with alternative definitions for the following:
burger: what a tiger says when it’s cold outside
understandable: what a matador hopes to do
dresser: a personal valet’s job
tumour: ordering another round for you and a mate
former: ordering a round of doubles for you and a mate
tracking: Usain Bolt
parking: Tiger Woods
blinking: Kanye West
bonking: Hugh Hefner
mismanagement: the yellow Tic Tac
permits: gloves for stroking your cat
whisky: very much like a whisk
fetish: not unlike a fet
sofa: up until now
mastered: everyone taking a dump at the same time
Hebrew: Jewish beer
Catholic: someone with an abnormal dependence upon cats
Muslim: what the law requires of dog owners
ornate: have you considered Nate?
window: what gamblers hope to do
papal: directions for using a slot machine
president: the resulting damage when a gift is dropped
painting: what you see a doctor for in Jamaica
terrier: more like Terry than Terry
school: fine by me
Romania: the latest rowing craze
Slovak: Vak with a low IQ
Budapest: Siddhartha Gautama’s interminable chanting
miming: in reply to Which of your vases do you treasure most?
presume: before the jet engine
confound: the recapturing of an escaped convict
subdued: cool underwater mariner
analogue: proctologist’s casebook
duplicity: New York, New York
popsicle: father’s scythe
distant: a scorned sister of your father
tantric: skin bronzer
statutory: bust of Winston Churchill
psychopath: a trail for the insane
francophone: telecommunication handset for Spanish generals
bisect: niche cult for those who swing both ways
mango: “I believe the gentleman’s leaving”
sarcasm: existential void that existed between Nikolai II and his people
sensible: have Cybill go
freedom: what Lincoln did
mannequin: pathological relatives
extrovert: former trovert
anti-matter: regarding your uncle’s wife
fireplace: the boss’s office
boomerang: a Hallowe’en dessert
numismatist: the former mismatist’s replacement
hot tub: a sexy overweight person
independent: a locally crafted necklace often sold at music festivals
naughty: what your granny keeps in that flask behind the bread tin
barbecue: the nod for Ken to make his move
Constantinople: the inability to abide one particular gemstone
mystical: an adult entertainer who titillates patrons with her feathered boa
collar: Mother’s Day advice
foreknowledge: golfing erudition
mariner: what expectant fathers are often informed they’ll be doing next
The new teacher entered the classroom and took her seat, greeting no one. Perpetua Tightwaters was having a bad day but her deportment made it impossible for the students to tell because she held only one expression in her armoury: disapproval. A fierce-looking woman with grey-blue eyes which devoured their prey whole, she could scan an entire school assembly at a glance over horn-rimmed glasses designed to gore enemies at close range. Thick, silvery hair which still held its lustre was meticulously hoovered up into a tidy bun, giving her the air of a grande dame of the Bolshoi who had long since exited the stage, but not the company. A smooth complexion required only a light touch from a modest palate; it was only her mauve lipstick which strayed into the adventurous, considered redundant by many because her lips were permanently pursed until they parted to issue a summons, reprimand or decree.
Perpetua Tightwaters loved crosswords, hated skateboarders, still bought her meat from the local butcher, donated to the Red Cross by direct debit, considered pet ownership overrated, knew her brother-in-law had a drinking problem before he did and stopped listening to Engelbert Humperdinck the day the singer made a joke about the Queen Mother during a live interview on Radio 4.
Alert and self-assured, she made few demands of others and expected the same courtesy in return, preferring discretion at all costs. During her morning commute into the city, Perpetua remained vigilant lest she should drop her guard for even a moment and, in doing so, make eye contact with a fellow commuter just bursting to talk about his gifted toddler’s progress at Junior Montessori. She had nothing against the public, she simply regarded them much as she did junior royals: odd-jobbers whose pivotal role might one day involve organ donation. In an increasingly unrecognisable world where meat was murder, Drag Queen Storytime had replaced Show & Tell and a pope had wavered ever so slightly on the question of married clergy, Perpetua Tightwaters chose to anchor herself in work, God and country for everyone’s sake.
In her opinion, social distancing wasn’t overkill.
It was overdue.
We sent the students home today
And then wrote off the year
Agreeing we would all downplay
The panic and the fear.
The younger ones all whooped and cheered
As soon as they were told
Then out the door they disappeared
To watch events unfold.
The seniors nervously dispersed
First, shell-shocked, then resigned
This endgame they had not rehearsed
Would leave some friends behind.
Worse still, I had no lesson plan
No academic text
No clever quote from some wise man
To say what might come next.
I struggled with this year’s goodbyes
But didn’t let it show
Instead I joked and signed their ties
And let them call me Bro!
Throughout the revelry we knew
The world was not the same
Our balanced lives were now askew
And we were not to blame.
But you can’t keep a good kid down
When they’re up for the fight
And as I watched them rally round
I knew they’d be alright.
The proof came when I reached my car
That’s when my vision blurred
In foam they’d written Au revoir!
Then What’s the French for NERD???
A friend of mine who used to teach
Said some kids he just couldn’t reach
A situation made more grim
For they were learning how to swim
While teaching a class of 12 year olds, one student asked about the origins of life.
[For the record, she was supposed to be conjugating the present tense of avoir]
“Can you narrow it down a bit for me?”
“Well, something had to start something so what started everything?” Lucy wondered.
“It’s a kind of Chicken & Egg Theory question, that one.”
“What do you mean, sir?” she persisted.
“Whenever we contemplate the origin of anything we often ask Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Some questions we just can’t answer. Well, not yet anyway but I think we’re getting closer.”
Lucy stared at nothing in particular but I could see her wheels were turning.
“And now I’ve confused you,” I laughed.
“Only because you’re confused, sir,” she stated, as respectfully as possible. “The answer to the Chicken & Egg Theory is easy. Chickens are birds. Birds are descendants of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs didn’t give birth to live young but laid eggs, therefore the eggs some dinosaurs laid eventually evolved into chickens through a process called speciation.“
A colleague once told me, “The best thing about being a teacher is that we are, indeed, the smartest people in the room.”
Some days I’m not so sure.