Emphatically not one to reach for scripture or the utterances of popular sages, I find myself returning to Kahlil Gibran’s words on parental responsibility – that wonderful encapsulation of the notion of loving someone so much that you set them free.
Your children are not your children. They are the sons & daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, Not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you, For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.
Maisie is slowly moving across the
colour spectrum from gold to cherry red. Diane tells us that progress is good
& - with continuing success at mealtimes - all should be well. Pics
GCSE Drama assessment came & went. Having picked up the group of 9
girls a year into the syllabus, I've only been working with them since
September. I was alarmed to discover in the first lesson that, due to
somewhat quixotic teaching during the previous year, they'd missed out
on virtually all the preparatory processes that lay down the
foundations for Year 11. So I've had to cobble together a sort of
Reader's Digest version of Year 10, running it right up to the line
& only introducing the assessment materials at the last minute.
a bit breathless, but the girls took on the challenges with a will
& worked together in their two groups with great commitment &
organisation. The preparation of the four pieces – reflecting the
conduct of the entire course - was always going to be a tad
wing-&-a-prayer with technical & dress rehearsals not taking
place until the afternoon of the first public performance, the day
before the actual assessments.
The two pieces being externally
examined were strikingly different. The larger group – 6 girls – chose
a dramatisation of one of the Grimm folk tales, The Magic Table,
a surreal tale involving a trio of everyday phenomena – a table, a
donkey, a cudgel in a sack – imbued with magical powers. The girls
used a physical theatre approach, morphing from character &
narrator roles into set, becoming doors, roofs, a chair, a window,
& presenting the whole with enormous energy & style.
second group had a more challenging task. With only three of them,
there was little of the potential for varied action offered to the
other group. They were pretty much limited to intensive naturalism
& therefore the challenge was to find an original plotline – or,
more precisely, a new take on an established narrative – that would
both accommodate their range & level of performance skills &
produce something striking.
This they managed to a degree that
surprised all four of us. For plot, they simply reversed the standard
tale of racial & cultural conflict by having E., who is white,
having to cope with prejudice from K., who is Indian, while R., also
Indian, tries to intercede. The vitalising element of the piece they
came up with was the script. Set in Southall, West London, an area of
intensive Asian habitation, the story concerns the arrival of middle
class Tiffany into a community dominated by Indian sub continental
culture. She is befriended by Remi, but rejected by Remi’s best friend
Poonam. Without being aware of the relationship, Tiffany dates
Poonam’s brother. When this becomes apparent the two decide to run
away together, but their plan is forestalled by Poonam blowing the
whistle on them & the family swiftly dispatching the brother to
Not a wildly original plot, but the dialogue was
strikingly authentic, particularly in its extensive use of Anglo-Asian
idioms. We are accustomed to the white community’s plundering of
Afro-Caribbean vocabulary & usage. Less widely acknowledged is the
rich vocabulary of British Asian youth. During the preparatory process,
the three girls moved from performance inhibition & zero confidence
in the fledgling piece to passionate commitment & a stirring
All 9 of them did well on the assessment day
& all I have to do now is total up the grades & dispatch them.
Strange days, these, with business as usual at a time when I thought
I’d be supping pints & playing dominoes with the other retirees
down at the Red Lion!
All well here. We're bloody but unbowed. Maisie has jaundice & she's lost weight since her 7lbs 8oz, but midwife/good pal Diane says not to worry & a regime of expressed milk supplementing the somewhat hit-or-miss feeding is bringing yellow down & weight back up. No pics yet. I'll wait until I don't have to photoshop the golden brown away!
R&R are coping well. They have taken a fitful interest in the new presence, but apart from Reuben giggling every time M. cries piteously & Rosie referring to her as Mosie, life carries on more or less as normal.
12.06. Off to bed to await Rosie's first reveille around 2-ish...
1.40 am. Just finished marking & then printing out all the coursework, plus cover sheets & general procedural bumfluff that is demanded by examination boards these days. My GCSE (16+) Drama students have their practical assessments tomorrow at 9.00.
This time last year I was contemplating retirement & any fears & insecurities I was feeling concerning the termination of a long career were significantly offset by the anticipated joy of never having to dive through the examination hoops again...
I have known Alan all my life. He lived with us for my first 20 years & remained an integral part of the close family structure even after he moved into his own flat. Indeed, it was my belief up to the age of 4 that all families contained an Alan.
He took the spare room in our South London flat in 1938, shortly after my parents married. At 18-years-old, Alan was ‘our waif & stray’, my mother used to say of the callow youth who moved in. Joking reference was also frequently made – by Alan, as often as not – to the ‘wicked stepmother’ who, on her marriage to Alan’s father, threw Alan & his younger brother out of the house to fend for themselves.
Behind these euphemisms lay real distress & sacrifice. His unworldliness notwithstanding, Alan possessed a keen mind & a fearsome intellect &, in more favourable circumstances, undoubtedly he would have gone on to university. Instead, he was articled to a firm of chartered accountants & was beginning to impress when war broke out. Alan joined the RAF & saw service as a flight lieutenant navigator in Coastal Command seaplanes & flying boats in India, Malaysia (then Malaya) & South Africa.
During the war Alan kept in close touch with my mother & father, regarding them increasingly as the family that, to all intents & purposes, he never had. Although they were only a few years older than him, he deferred to them very much as parental figures. To my father he accorded a deep respect & regard, drawing from him a passionate interest in music & theatre & a tolerant & liberal view of humanity unusual in those years of fierce ideological polarisation. To my mother he gave a love & loyalty that never wavered. His devotion was such that, although he got close a number of times, he never married, & he remains a bachelor now.
Well into my adulthood, I never seriously questioned the nature of the unconventional triangular parenting that I received. Somehow the roles of each of them integrated seamlessly &, on family outings, boarding school visits, annual holidays & at Christmas, Alan would be there too. And when, in his 60s, following retirement from a senior partnership in an internationally renowned firm of accountants, Alan bought a villa in the South of France, it was axiomatic that my parents would be co-resident with him there.
When my father died at 89, automatically Alan became my mother’s carer, taking responsibility for both the domestic & financial management of her affairs &, increasingly as her frailty increased, her physical welfare. In this final office, he has deferred always to me – not out of any sense of yielding to me family prerogative because of the ties of blood, but from his entirely natural grace & courtesy. For my part, as an only child curiously blessed throughout my life by the presence of this man who came to stay, I cherish these last rituals & processes of the family life from which I came. And if I have come to question the true character & meaning of Alan’s unwavering devotion only in recent years & to wonder at the balance between fulfilment & pain that, over time, it has brought, I’m happy to take my place within this final triangle.
Sometimes I see us as two figures in a landscape, empty
but for us, Chirico-still, our long shadows in alignment at last.
You tended the edges of my life from the start
the good steward, the chatelain. But although the hard, white
lighthouse beam of that indivisible love shone high above my head,
even then its cutting edge cast light enough to read by.
Now my father’s dead and my mother smiles, lost in her sheets.
And still you radiate (burning up hope and your few years)
that love indivisible whose fanatic heat binds us in that empty place.
2.05 PM. Still slow progress. I'm sitting downstairs, the male supernumary, while midwife Diane & Emma follow the processes through. I'll be summoned for libations, water supply, hand-holding as & when. I just have to stay awake...