Sunday, 21 March 2010

Incredible Acts of Kindness

The woman stops and rolls down her car window. Oh no, what now, I think.
'Do you want my car park ticket? It's got a couple of hours left.' I accept, graciously. This is the second time this has happened to me. The first time was in a dark multi-storey, with heavy, low ceilings. I was alone. A man ran towards me, his hand raised. I froze. 'Take my ticket,' he panted, 'I've paid for too many hours.'
I have experienced many of these small, inexplicable acts of kindness, particularly from women when my children were small. The passenger on the train who fetched drinks for us when I couldn't leave three children alone and go to the buffet, the strangers who helped me on and off buses, the people who returned dropped toys and the woman who found and looked after a child I had lost at the American Adventure Theme Park. The most amazing example I witnessed was on a bus in Manchester and it followed a completely explicable act of cruelty. I wrote a poem about this for the recent Big Issue poetry competition. Needless to say it didn't win but here it is anyway:

Manchester Heroine

I am impatient,
with a driver who speaks no English,
with a man who eats a burger,
with the boy whose ipod whistles.
I am impatient when the bus halts,
too long.

A man tries to buy a ticket from
our driver, who speaks no English.
We wait, stilled,
hit by invective, then silence.
The driver cannot move.
He is diminished.

A woman stands, walks to the front,
touches his arm, soothes with words.
He was drunk.
It's not your fault.
Take your time.
We can wait.

She apologises for Manchester,
for us, the passengers on this bus,
the number 43 for West Didsbury
and Northenden. We smile, proud.
No longer impatient.
Not now.

I wish I'd had the courage to be that woman.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Stupid Boy

There was a mum, a dad and two little children, one a baby in a highchair, the other a little boy about three years old. I'd already exchanged a smile with the mum as she spooned goo into the baby's mouth. I didn't see her leave the table but she must have taken the baby to change its nappy. Something about the dad's tone made me glance across. 'You stupid, stupid little boy' he hissed. The child had spilt his father's coffee. The dad noticed me watching but continued his lecture, lowering his voice. The child's face crumpled and he cried, head in hands. When mum came back, the child didn't lift his head from the table.
Come on mum, I urged her silently, please repair this. Instead she listened to dad's complaints about the child and ignored the boy. The waitress heard the story too, dad sneaking a look at me to guage my reaction.
Roll the tape on twenty years. Dad will despair of his son. 'He's a great lad but no ambition. Doesn't have a clue what he wants to do with his life.' Well, that's because he's stupid, Stupid.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Hammam

The Marketing Department at Rituals may well have made a mistake, linking their latest product line to the Hammam, a Turkish bath. I went to a Hammam in Wadi Musa, Jordan, at Christmas and the experience was as far from our 'pampering' spa days as an hour on a rugby field is to an aerobics class.
I chose the women-only Hammam, not because I'm a prude but I thought that if there was going to be embarrassment or worse, humiliation, in the bare-naked department I would rather deal with it in front of my own gender. The staff were plump women in black swimsuits who ordered us about with single-word commands normally reserved for dogs. I sat where I was told, on a hard bench in a room full of steam; 'sit!', 'wait!'. The other punters were vague, pink shapes in the mist and as I peered at their vapourous gestures, I understood that I should first try the sauna, once there was a space, then sluice myself with what I hoped was warm water. I hadn't managed to get to the water bit when somebody grabbed my arm and I was taken to another room where bodies on slabs, not unlike gravestones, were being vigorously scrubbed by the attendants. One beckoned cheerfully and pointed to a vacant slab.
'Lie down!' I climbed on with difficulty and lay on my back, the hard stone pressing into the back of my skull. The attendant scoured my face with a rough cloth, soaked in something that smelt of Vim. Stupidly, I had kept my make-up on. I hadn't been washed like this since I was a child and my mother was fed-up. I had forgotten how it felt, that particularly ferocious scrub unique to mothers who are at the end of their tether. After my face, all my other parts followed. 'Turn over!' Do you remember when you last had your bum washed by someone else?
'Get down!' I heaved myself off the slab. Another hand led me through the steam and I stood gasping as I was doused in cold water. More hands. 'Come!' Another room, another slab. Now the oils. No! Not through my hair! Too late. The oils smelt like fly spray. I was pummelled, squeezed and pinched, as if by bullying hands in a school playground. My legs and arms were pulled into positions they hadn't seen since I was six months old and could suck my own toes.
'Finished!' I was pulled off the table and wrapped in a towel. Pushed through a door I stood, blinking, in front of a quiet group of women sipping herbal tea. 'This way!' Back in the changing room, I sat blinking on a wooden bench. I couldn't get dry. The oil clung to my skin and hair and no matter how hard I towelled my skin, it stayed wet. My clothes had to be peeled back on. There was a hairdryer but my hair was so tangled, my brush shed bristles in despair. Looking like Worzel Gummage, I slid onto a bench amongst the other women to drink my tea. They murmured softly to each other in German, calm and relaxed. One of them turned to me and smiled, her eyes scanning my disarray. 'First time?'

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

My working life (2)

Right now I'm troubled by a six year old who is about to be permanently excluded (expelled) from school. He was excluded from another school when he was four. What is an educational psychologist to do? Running off isn't allowed. I have to try and hold everyone's distress; the school who are coping with staff and children being hurt on a daily basis and the parents who cannot bear the rejection of their little boy. It's really too late. There is a sense of failure and defeat all round. I am the still voice at the centre; I listen, I advise but there is little I can do to prevent this. The school have had much advice from teacher support services, the child has generous support from the local authority and I try to help the school and the parents but the answer lies in getting rid of this child's 'ghosts' from the nursery. Here is a ferocious, angry little boy who has to control everything and everyone around him through verbal and physical aggression. He cannot allow himself to be a child; being little and vulnerable is a terrifying place to be. When he's angry with his mother, his voice becomes hard and cold, he calls her by her first name and says she's 'stupid'. He moves like a tornado and his reach is like quicksilver. I have asked for help from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) but there is a long waiting list. The parents and child need lengthy, quiet, calm work on their relationship. While this happens, the child needs education in a small, nurturing class where he can safely practice the art of childhood. And pigs might fly.