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In Good Company: Inconsistencies

A teacher once inscribed in a report on the academic work of Enid Blackburn’s son ‘Does not like to exert himself.’

‘Does this mean he is lazy?’ Enid and her husband Bill demanded on parents’ evening.

‘Yes,’ the teacher replied.

Enid, in her good-humoured style, wonders how well we know our children.

Do you really understand your child?

Or are there mysterious quirks in his otherwise lovable nature, which obviously come from your partner’s family strain, but are nevertheless baffling?

Shakespeare wasn’t just play-acting when he said ‘It’s a wise father who knows his own child.’ Today he would probably have gone a step further and added ‘But his teacher knows him better.’

Yes, if you want to know Junior, study his school report. Somewhere among the prescription-like handwriting hides a vital clue to his amorphous personality, and you could pick up a few hints on teachers’ too.

My unique gifts were discovered immediately I entered grammar school and duly entered on my first report. Memories of that exciting Friday teatime come rushing back, me running homeward through the green fields, the precious manila envelope in my brown blazer pocket, stopping only to rifle the contents, digest the insults and creep tearfully home.

But having a dad fighting for his country from a deckchair in West Africa had its compensations. My work-weary mother had enough to concern her without having to read my agony. So to relieve some of it I translated for her, while she listened to Vera Lynn begging us for the umpteenth to wish her luck as we waved her goodbye.

The theme was always the same. ‘Has ability but is not consistent in her efforts.’ Naturally I only felt it necessary to burden her with the first two words. As time passed I became quite adept at this.

But this enlightening revelation, repeated at monthly intervals, made a profound impression on my innocent mind, and it eventually dawned on my mother, unfortunately.

I realised even at this tender age it was useless to fight. Others would gain the honours my painful inconsistencies denied me. What a handicap!

Of course I never give up striving. Well actually I do after a while, but it’s something I have to live with (sniff).

Only last week I decided to try to be a perfect mother. We were all drying our eyes after the latest fairy story from ‘The Waltons.’ Our son had been late for work two consecutive mornings. Poor neglected lad, I thought, as I tucked his dwindling wage packet in my pocket. Getting up on his own and snatching a lonely breakfast as the rest of us slumber on, what he needs is the loving care of a mother – or a sledgehammer. Settling back in my favourite armchair, my toes as near the flames as possible without melting my tights, I had a cosy vision of myself the following morning.

There I was rising cheerfully at the crack of dawn, putting on my gingham apron and lighting the fire, a merry song on my lips while the eggs and bacon sizzle invitingly in the pan. Then when the delicious aroma of percolated Blue Mountain blend is almost too much to bear, I creep gently upstairs tenderly to awake our sleeping engineer.

When breakfast is over, I wave him on to the bus with my best Momma Walton smile.

Unhappily, it didn’t exactly happen like that. The alarm rang and after wrestling with my inconsistent abilities for half-an-hour I felt my way to his bedroom without opening my eyes, shook him until his rattling teeth dislodged his eyelids, then I am ashamed to say, contrary to all promises, I crept back to my warm patch.

I was formally accused and stood trial at the tea table. Surrounded by expressions of disgust I tried to defend myself, but in the end had to plead guilty. But what can I do? I blame it all on the manila envelope.

In my defence, perhaps I ought to mention my son’s similar affliction. One of his teachers once inscribed the immortal phrase, ‘Does not like to exert himself.’ How dare she we thought, gazing fondly at our son as he dozed peacefully beside the dog.

‘Does this mean he is lazy?’ we demanded, on parents’ evening.

‘Yes,’ she replied. So parents be warned, do read the small print, even if it takes a telescope. The key to the future may be disguised in the scribble.

*

Was it something I’d said, I wondered, as I noticed our seven-year-old curled up like a watch-spring in the corner with her head poking out from the mess at a ghoulish angle? Then I noticed the yoga book. How does she do it? After months of practice I still can’t face the cross-legged position without a pain-killer

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