I know. I know. It's been too long. Shall we just pretend that I didn't take an abrupt, 6-month blogging sabbatical? I really didn't plan to abandon you all. I just had nothing to say. Nothing. That is all. I would love to be able tell you that I'd used the time productively. That I could return, after a mysterious absence, and smugly proclaim that I'd:
- found love with some rugged, pipe-smoking Tony Benn* sort and was now blissfully shacked up in a Northumbrian seaside cottage, surrounded by hollyhocks, lurchers and potted shrimp sandwiches.
- completed (or even started) my great Sunderland novel (like the great American novel, only with added chip fat, scrunchies and whippets. Similar to The Great Gatsby, but set in Gala Bingo).
To be honest, I'd even have settled for lowlier, less ambitious goals, like defrosting the fridge, or mastering a passable Welsh Rarebit. I've done fuck all. FUCK ALL, I tell you. Just work. It feels strange to be back, you know. But a heartfelt 'thank you' to everyone who commented or emailed. Some of you were concerned, I know. My lifeless, pale and bloated corpse was not festering in front of ITV3, betwixt candy-stripe bed linen, whilst being nibbled by lurchers. Well, no more than it usually is (essentially, that grisly tableau-vivant depicts a typical weekend at Chez Underscore, you see).
So, I am easing myself in to blogging gently. Please, set expectations to 'rock bottom'; for the last 6 months my writing has been limited to a terse 'see me!' at the bottom of Year 6 exercise books.
Introducing Bubble, like
I vowed never to write again about the School of Hard Knocks , but I do feel I should mention Bubble. Bubble is my new teaching assistant. Indeed, Bubble is actually a qualified teacher herself (albeit one who, unsurprisingly, has never found gainful employment as a teacher). Pompous Pilate (dastardly despot of The School of Hard Knocks) felt that, as I was now in Year 6, I required a higher calibre of support than the foul-mouthed, illiterate and toothless crone Doreen. Doreen has been moved on to pastures new (probably knitting by a guillotine somewhere).
I've named Bubble after Jane Horrocks' 'Ab Fab' character. They are very similar. Although, to be fair, Ab Fab Bubble is a much more sober, sophisticated and intellectual creature. She's a veritable Joan Bakewell/Angela Merkel when compared to SOHK Bubble. SOHK Bubble is 95% Towie, 5% Penelope Pitstop. My new teaching assistant is, to all intents and purposes, a bird-brained flibbertigibbet.
During Bubble's inaugural week at the SOHK, we had to attend an anti-racism shindig at our local football stadium. My kids were cock-a-hoop at the possibility of meeting some real footballers (well, the handful who were not currently on remand for date-rape or drink-driving). I could tell that Bubble was even more excited than the children at the prospect. There can't be many qualified teachers who actually OWN a salmon-pink, lycra boob-tube, or a tulle ra ra skirt, let alone sport them on a bleak January morning.
'Why, oh why,' I remember thinking at the time, 'have teacher training courses removed 'Cardigan Wearing 101' from their syllabuses?' Bastard education cuts. I am telling you, THE GIRL DOESN'T EVEN OWN A PAIR OF BALLET PUMPS. I wish I could apply Cillit Bang to my brain, to erase the image of Bubble tottering down the SOHK mini-bus steps that day, in leopard-print stilettos, the icy Wearside wind whipping at the ruffles of her Primark ra ra skirt. Miss Jean Brodie would never have exposed her 'prime' in such an eye-poppingly, undignified way.
Anyway, Bubble (and my class) were disappointed that morning. The racism workshop was actually facilitated by 4 middle-class, white girls from the mean streets of Jesmond**. There was a notable absence of footballers. And black people. The day was saturated with an atmosphere of suffocating worthiness, as heavy and lumpen as week-old baba ghanoush. Those skinny, vegan Jesmond lassies, with their unstructured green-cotton t-shirts and Converse sneakers had met their match with my class of sink-estate reprobates though. I was rather proud of them, that day.
Tabitha: Right guys. Now then, I'm a little bit concerned. I have a friend, let's just call him Sebastian. . .
Blade: (under his breath) Stupid name. Miss Underscore, I feel sorry for him like, being called Sebastian and that. I bet he gets teased, like.
Miss U: (whispering) Shhhhh Blade, not everyone has as impressive a name as you. Listen.
Tabitha: . . . and Sebastian sometimes uses a really bad word. . . sometimes he says the word (she pauses for dramatic effect and steels herself with a deep, cleansing breath) . . sometimes he says the word CHINKY.
Tabitha stands with her hands on her hips, looking shamefully at the floor, shaking her head in abject shame and horror at even repeating such a word.
Blade: (to Miss U) I don't like the sound of Sebastian, Miss. He's like, racist, like. When can we have our packed lunch?
Tabitha: Let's just chat about this shall we. What other words can we say that we shouldn't?
Bobbi-Jo-Tanishqua: (confidently counting insults on her fingers) Aye, why like, Chinky is a rude way of saying Chinese person. Paki, like, is a racist way of saying Pakistani, Chippy is a rude way of saying Chip Shop (although Miss Underscore is always gannin' on about having a chippy supper, so I dinnit think it can be that bad).
Tabitha: Well done, Bobbi-Jo-Tanishqua. Any other words that we should rap about? Come on guys!
My class look uneasily at each other. There is a long pause.
Blade: (uneasily) Aye, well like, there's that word Miss Underscore always tells us off for. She gans proper mental like, whenever we say it. Like, totally bonkers.
The whole class groans in agreement and shuffles uncomfortably in their seats.
Tabitha: Well guys, why don't you tell me what it is and then we can talk about it. Don't be shy, I'm sure Miss Underscore won't mind just this once. Just let it out. We're going to be totally open today. So, everyone say it on the count of three. OK guys, one. . .two. . . three!
Children: (in unison) LIKE!
Blade: (shrugging, as he explains) Aye. Miss Underscore, she's like. .. . . BANNED us from using the word LIKE. She's proper, like, strict, like.
Anyway, I shall blog again tomorrow. I suppose I should update you on the situation with Rochester, the flakiest of all fanny rats. And I want to share my thoughts about turning into a Barbara Pym heroine, living a spinsterish existence of tweed jackets and genteel poverty. (See, essentially I have nothing for you, I've been gone 6 months and NOTHING HAS CHANGED.)
In the meantime, can I share with you some of my favourite things?
The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins ( which has a brilliant introduction by Hilary Mantel). A beautifully written, terribly poignant domestic novel written in the 1950s. This book has sentences that are just so exquisitely crafted that I found myself reading them over and over again in wonder.
Alex Monroe's new British themed collection. I adore this boat necklace,
and this crafty fox necklace. Can't afford either though.
Oh, and my new retro sandals. I had these when I was a young 'un. They are an original 1970s design, re-issued by Clarks (Kestral Soar). When I wear these I am aspiring to be a bronzed, tousled-of-hair, jean-wearing goddess. I secretly fear I am more hairy-legged lesbian at Greenham Common.
* I have decided that Tony Benn is my ideal man: a robust, serious, idealistic, ethical, corduroy wearing, pipe-smoking GOD.
**The Guardian-reading, hummus-eating capital of the North.