Before I begin this story, I first need to tell you something about a charming little place I know called Plumstead. The reason for this will soon become apparent. So briefly, Plumstead is on the very outskirts of London, and very close to South Woolwich, the original home of the Arsenal (Come on you Reds) and the UK’s first FuckDonalds. Now Plumstead is considered London in the same way that weight watchers’ mousse is considered pudding. Basically, it got in on a technicality. You’ll see read buses there, you’ll have no idea where they go.
The mother had spent one long year of her life there, and it had not been an easy year by any stretch. This was largely down to her emotional state at the time. She spent most of her days there feeling anxious and isolated and when she wasn’t overwrought with those two emotions, she was usually bored.
Now in defence of SE28, the place was far from boring, there was some amazing places of interest in the area. The mother was just a short walk from Belmarsh Prison, home to any self-respecting convicted terrorist or infamous category A prisoner. Then, there was, ‘The Thamesmead’ as it was known, one of the largest council estates in Europe. The estate was an Architectual wonder and the backdrop for several films set in hideous dystopias, as well as numerous crime dramas. Christ that didn’t exactly roll off the tongue, did it.
On a more cheerful note, her home there had also been near a Woolworths, a great big beautiful Woolworths. Fucking hell those were the days! Quality Street, paint, lightbulbs, children’s toys, pick and mix, socks, plates, cutlery, LP’s, Walkman’s ok let me stop there. There wasn’t much you couldn’t buy from a Woollies’ and there wasn’t much you couldn’t nick either. Finally, there was a fabulous Gay Bar called The Royal Infantry which held, ‘S&M’ nights and cross-dressing balls, well who doesn’t love a bit of that.
The problem wasn’t the area, more the timing. After having recently given birth, her and her partner were now frantically looking for somewhere affordable to live in London. yeah, I know right! Well Jason at least was looking. The mother was lying in bed surrounded by nappies, used breast pads, blood, baby sick and oh a baby. Most of her days were spent just trying her best not to fall off the edge of the earth.
The council finally offered them a one-bedroom flat in Plumstead, something which even in those days was like gold dust. I mean, I know people who would literally cut their own legs off to get a council flat.
“Well, it’s still in London right, it’s not far from our friends, is it?”
They moved there when her son was just three months old, she knew no one and was 50 miles away from her nearest family. And if that wasn’t hard enough, like many new mums she also felt totally overwhelmed with the responsibility of looking after a tiny, vulnerable human and a cat!
Her partner was working all the hours god sent. So, there she was tired, skint and stuck in a tiny flat with nothing to look out on except the back end of Belmarsh Prison. Motherhood had certainly rocked her world!
They did go out of course, her and her son, there were numerous trips back and forth across the Thames on the Woolwich Ferry. At weekends they’d splash around together at the local swimming pool and then of course, there was Woollies’.
Fortunately, having served her time in Plumstead, the council saw fit move her again. She was absolutely over the moon when she found out she being relocated, to Peckham, which might some people. At last, she was out of the oblivion and close to her friends again.
“It’s only 7 minutes by train from London Bridge,” she rejoiced
It wasn’t that she bloody loved London Bridge, it was just nice to be 7 minutes from anywhere, that wasn’t a prison or as I mentioned earlier a hideous dystopia.
In the process of moving, she had made several trips between the two places, and so was well aware of the distance between them. Now, I have written this short history by means of a tenuous introduction, building up to the tale I am about to tell. I don’t know if it was really needed, or if it enhances this story in any way, but it certainly feels good to get it off my chest.
So, when her agency called her with a new position, as usual they gave her the hard sell. As part of the whole persuasion package came the usual erroneous statements about the commute.
“It shouldn’t take that long to get there; the commute is not actually as difficult as you might think. It’s really not that far from where you live. One thinks the agency doth protest too much!
Well, the commute is a bit of a nightmare,”
“It’s not really that far away from Peckham,”
“Well, it is actually that far away from Peckham, in fact it’s eight miles away.”
“Yes, but if you got the train,”
“Yeah, if I got the train I’d have to change 15 times and say good bye to a tenner just getting there.
“Well, I’ve actually got Journey Planner open at the moment and it’s saying it only takes 46 minutes to get there.”
“Well I’ve done a time and motion study of the journey and I’m telling you it’s going be longer than the labour for my first child.
That was agencies for you, not so much economical with the truth, more theologists with different interpretations of it.
When this approach didn’t work, they tried a different tact. The sell the class approach. They attempted to convince her that the Year Six class she’d be teaching were very focused, respectful and well behaved. The lady from the agency even went as far as to say, they’d be an easy class to teach! Another whopper, there was no such thing as an easy year six class. But after much pestering she agreed to a visit. The staff at the school turned out to be very friendly. The class could be at a push described as, ‘manageable’ and so after a trial day, she took on the assignment.
However, the problem of travelling time remained. This problem became ever more pressing with every day, and every trip she made there. After spending a couple of hours marking each day and then traveling home, it worked out to be a very long day. She never got to Peckham Rye station before 7.00pm, and by the time she got there, she always felt like a drink. Not only did she always feel like a drink, but, after teaching year six all-day, she also bloody deserved one, well at least one. I mean a tea total saint would have needed to a pint ot two after a day like hers.
To make matters worse, seven o’clock was a perfectly acceptable time to go to the pub, so it was very hard to fight its magnetism. Added to this, was the fact that the mother passed no less than five pubs on her way home, well, you can see her dilemma, can’t you?
On this particular week she stayed strong on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. But by Thursday, she was at her weakest and found herself being drawn into the Albert Pub on the way home. Thursday was always a good night at the Albert, the football wasn’t on, but the barman with the tattoos and piercings was. But still, she would only stay for one drink. Just one drink she told herself, just one drink.
She had just ordered herself a cold, crisp pint of Camden Hells, but before she’d even inhaled its beautiful aroma and taken one sip of this glorious liquid sunshine, her phoned buzzed. What now she thought! It was her partner. Jesus what did he want she thought instantly annoyed by the interruption.
It wasn’t like she didn’t love to hear from Jason, it was just well, she immediately felt like she was going to have do a job of some kind, get something, go somewhere. All she wanted to do right now was have a drink and hope the outside world disappear, Ha spoken like a true alcoholic.
When the mother had first started dating Jason, he’d send her messages like,
“I can’t wait to see you tonight,” or “I’ve got us tickets to see The Dropkick Murphy’s.” Sometimes when he was drunk, he’d send her texts like,
“I want to XXXX your XXXX.” At least she thought it was him, it was hard to remember now, someone had definitely sent them to her.
Now, after two kids and having lived together for several hundred years, the narrative had changed. To be fair, Jason still messaged her every day, It was just that, now their commutation by phone was far more functional. This text read,
“We need bog roll and cat food.”
Not even a sodding kiss thought the mother and she replied just as bluntly,
“Will get some on the way back from the pub.”
Jason would be annoyed that she had not included “I” at the start of the sentence, he was a stickler for proper English. But hadn’t abbreviated any words so he’d be happy about that. Actually, he’d probably just be pretty happy to have some loo roll.
Halfway through her second pint, (did I say second) she began to unwind. All-day she had been on edge, she hadn’t stopped, not even for a second. The morning had started at breakneck speed and continued at that pace for the rest of the day. She’d settled the children taken the register, reminded them about expectations for behaviour. Then she quietly given Tyler a warning, and then started teaching. She’d demonstrated the work on the whiteboard, while wondering where her TA was. She’d asked the children questions, she’d answered the children’s questions, she’d addressed misconceptions. She’d moved Tyler to another table. She’d explained the written work, she’d check they understood the success criteria. She’d explained the work again, she doubled checked the correct learning objectives were in their books. She’d warned blue table of the consequences of not finishing their work. Finally, she’d asked the children to begin their writing and to work in silence. Yeah, I know right, year 6 silent, but you’ve got to at least aim high. Then she’d taken a massive swig of her tea, checked the PowerPoint was ready for the next lesson and finally sat down at her desk.
Well, she almost sat down at her desk when she realised 6 children didn’t have a pen, two children didn’t have their books, Michael wasn’t wearing his glasses and all the girls on the back table had swapped shoes.
After sorting all this out, she then began going around the class helping children while managing behaviour, listening, watching, assessing, and occasionally breathing. When you teach, you are not so much on your feet all day, as on your toes.
People often asked the mother why she went to the pub on her own.
At this, the same thought always entered her head, why wouldn’t you want to go there on your own. Sometimes, people would add,
“Doesn’t it feel a bit weird, just sitting there with no one to talk to?”
“No,” the mother would reply, “it feels absolutely bloody lovely! She could read a book, do The Guardian quick crossword or at least try to, or just sit there and do absolutely nothing at all! Christ, at her local, she could even nod off for a while without anyone noticing. There were no questions, no demands, and no children, bliss.
Tonight, however, she was so exhausted she barely had the strength to pick up her pint, let alone work out 3 across, the fourth-longest river in Africa. She needed to stop thinking, to forget about the day she’d had and with each sip of Hop House 13 she did. She forgot about the arguments she’d had with children. She forgot about the formal method for long division. She stopped thinking about whether she’d explained the work correctly. She forgot about the despair and frustration she’d felt when the computer kept freezing and finally, she forgot all about the cat food.