The radio had me choking on my wheatabix this morning when it informed me that middle class children enjoy the benefit of educational forays to museums and art galleries with their parents throughout the year whereas less fortunate children (my children would say more) suffer ‘Learning Slippage’, dilly dallying at home causing the brain to go to mush (thanks alot), and requiring relearning on the Monday of what they were supposed to have off pat on the Friday.
‘Your mouths are still blue, children’ I said, surveying the evidence of serious Learning Slippage the day before, when I’d bought myself some time ‘allowing’ them (pushed them out the door) to go to the corner shop for magazines. They’d returned with mock sorrow: ‘They didn’t have the magazines we like!’ This had compelled them to buy a shed load of sweets (slippage!), the centrepiece being ‘Lickety Lips’, a roll-on deodorant-style bottle filled with electric blue syrup to smear over (and stain) the inside and outside of the mouth. ‘That is revolting’ I’d said, delighted it would last for ages and let me finish my e-mails.
I may have a case of Learning Slippage myself, because I don’t actually see how going to the V&A to make a cloth bag or some such is going to help my son remember how to spell ‘stashun’, nor how skidding up and down that slopey bit at the Tate Modern will improve anyone’s simultaneous equations, but I’m willing to be told, and anyway once the radio has begun terrorising me with good parenting directives it’s only a matter of time before we have to go out on one of “Mummy’s awful trips’.
I peeled my mug mat, the National Gallery Free Family Events programme, off the table: ‘Watercolours! We can learn to paint with watercolours at the National Gallery!’ ‘OH NO!’ roared Alfie, ‘YOU CAN’T MAKE ME DO IT!’. But I had the bit between my teeth, and go we did, armed with the promise of extended TV upon return, and arriving at the gallery in time to play in the cloakroom, which is how I garotted my forehead on a coat hook with such force that my vision went weird and I had to sit down quietly for a bit, pushing Alfie and Bonnie forward to join all the bright girls and boys listening to the rules: ‘Don’t touch! And make sure your parents don’t wander off! haha!’ I was still seeing stars as we sat down before the chosen Gainsborough for some interactive teaching, in fact I rather embarrassingly nodded off (knocked out?) somewhere between ‘use of perspective’ and ‘colour tones’, but I rallied to encourage Alfie with his ‘initial study’ (‘that’s a fantastic table, Alfie!’ ‘It’s a dog’). The visiting artist demonstrated how to ‘develop’ the study by building up watercolours in blocks, and all the high achievers set to, carefully mixing colours and eyeing each others’ artwork.…all except Alfie, who decided the best way to sidestep the imminent humiliation was to have a little fun, as with his cross-curricular ‘Portrait of a Tudor Man’ which might have made the class display if he’d resisted adding a pig’s snout at the last minute. So in the workshop, he poured all the water and paint allotted to our table over his initial study (the dog/table) and stirred it wildly to a batter, singing loudly all the while, a challenging smile thrown at me as he wrung it out and lobbed it in the bin: One nil to Alfie.
Happy and fulfilled after this splendid educational foray, the children waited a polite thirty seconds after we got home before switching on for the promised Learning Slippage and I trotted off to my quarters for me-time with the radio and the rock hard wheatabix. ‘MUM! THE TELLY’S NOT WORKING!!’ It was doing that flickery thing that makes you epileptic. Oh Lord, grant me Learning Slippage, and grant it now. ‘Leave it to me’ I said, frantically unplugging all the plugs (‘Thanks a lot! Now we have to go right back to the beginning of the programme!’) and sticking them in again, which is how clever old Alan fixes it. ‘It’s broken, children.’ I said, reaching for the pills. Bit I jogged it accidentally, and all the lights flashed on. It started humming…and so did I.