Thursday, 16 December 2010

Two o'clock in the morning

It’s two o’ clock in the morning and four of us are awake: Husband, Eldest, Youngest and me. Our neighbours are having a party.

Earlier, lying in our own bed, in our own bedroom, at 11.30 on Saturday night, the music was so loud it was like actually being at the party ourselves: both the wall and bed were shaking (no wise cracks please) from the thumping base in the living room on the other side of the wall.

It’s someone’s birthday. We know this because they were singing Happy Birthday. And they really like Blur. We know this because they were joining in with the chorus for Song 2 turning up the volume on the ‘yoo hoos’.

I say ‘we’ but husband did - very annoyingly - manage to fall asleep. He’s a lark you see, while I’m an owl, or perhaps a dormouse would be a more accurate description. Either way there’s no way I could sleep through that racket so I made up a bed up in the office at the back of the house, dragging a heavy mattress and bedding across the landing.

I shut all doors to rooms with adjoining walls to the house next door and lay on the floor in the dark; except it wasn't dark because it turns out that electronic equipment has lots of flashing lights. So I lay on the floor watching the flicker of tiny green lights and listening to the hum of computer and slightly more muffled thump of base.

Surely I won’t be able to get to sleep like this? It’s all in the mind, I think, and try to convince myself that I'm actually at a party (through choice), I’m really, really tired and I’ve just sloped off to find this lovely bed to sleep in all by myself... Not so hard, it’s what I really do feel like doing at parties a lot of the time.

And it must have worked because before I know it I’m waking to the sound of even louder base, which means I must have been asleep, for a short while at least. But now I can hear something else…a creaking door and footsteps. It’s Youngest coming downstairs from his room. And then Husband bursts in.

“So that's where you are! This is ridiculous!” He says, “Both Youngest and Eldest are awake now.” (I’m paraphrasing - obviously he doesn’t actually refer to his own children like this). “It’s two in the morning and Eldest says he hasn’t been to sleep at all yet.”

To prove the point Eldest comes in to recount the entire playlist. It includes The Clash and Arctic Monkey’s. So at least they have good taste. Husband says he’s going to complain, which just goes to show how bad it is because usually Husband would rather die than complain (unlike me). So here we both are, fully clothed, shaking with rage and ringing the next-door bell in the middle of the night.

They do eventually turn the music down, a bit, but not before arguing with us that it really wouldn’t be so bad if they’d just managed to warn us about the party first - which they hadn't. I point out that, although courteous, forewarning us would make no actual difference to the inconvenience. But they don’t seem to understand this, perhaps because they’re drunk.

Eventually, after listening to a lot of car door slamming and taxi engine ticking, we settle down again to try and get some sleep. But Youngest refuses to go back to his own bed and spends the rest of the night thrashing around in ours digging his feet into my kidneys.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The school hall

The primary school hall. To what has this Victorian room borne witness? Two world wars, votes for women, the election of the first Labour government with its pledge of free universal education for all, thousands of children passing through en route to great, or more likely average, things and now, on a Friday evening, the genitalia on Arthur Smith’s comedy pants.

Rewind to the Friday morning and the very same room is thronged with eager faces waiting for proceedings to begin. The children? Actually I was thinking of the parents who regularly fill the place to capacity to watch children presenting work they’ve been doing in class that week. Evidently not something the Victorian architects anticipated.

I’ve been coming here every Friday morning at ten for years. At first I invariably sat at the back along with one or two other stay-at-home mums, sometimes even with a stay-at-home dad (or should that be freelance?). Now it’s standing room only if you don’t get there quickly enough.

While this perfectly demonstrates how the school has changed over the years and the heartening way in which so many parents now take an active role in their children’s progress, there’s also something a bit unnerving about it as a frenzy of waving and blowing kisses kicks off between offspring and parents.

What about the children whose parents never come? What about those whose parents work five days a week or haven’t the inclination? And are the parents who do come here to share in the success of all pupils or just celebrate that of their own?

Sometimes it’s a troubling atmosphere, undoubtedly one of celebration but also of competition. The school is keen to reward good work and behaviour in the form of certificates presented to two children from every class each week but as there are 30 children in most classes it means that 28 children are not rewarded. To address this rewards are evenly distributed over time so that everybody gets one in the end, in which case isn’t it all a bit meaningless? Tricky.

Michael Rosen has written that the current fashion in education for constantly rewarding the few with stickers and certificates and medals effectively means punishing the many. I’m not sure I agree; but sometimes, in assemblies in particular, I see what he means especially when it comes to praising projects (projects are one of my pet hates).

Having been to so many assemblies over the years I’ve also got to know the national curriculum rather well. If there was something a bit Groundhog Day for me about watching reception recite the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, in unison and with actions, again last week God know how the teachers must feel.

But it was charming and the faces of those children’s parents, craning their necks to see from the back (and the audience does mostly consist of parents of younger children), was a sight to behold: all wide smiles and glistening eyes. Of course I was - am - a doting parent myself: I’ve even re-scheduled a day out next week because it clashes with the afternoon carol service at the local church. I wouldn’t miss that for the world. As I’ve already blogged, there won’t be many more primary school carol concerts for me …

In the evening a crowd turned up again to cram the same school hall with much the same enthusiasm, this time for the PTA comedy night. Quite a contrast: the wide-eyed innocence of the morning’s proceedings set against the expletive-ridden filth of the evening.

Much of the audience was the same but instead of a model of a World War 2 prisoner of war camp held aloft or the story of The Three Billy Goat’s Gruff to regale us, we cried with laughter as a grown man pulled his trousers down (the evening was so much more that that and very funny).

Both events were entertaining and just go to show what a multifaceted lot we south London parents are.