Alfie returned from his week at the Outdoor Education Centre, Pendarren, in Wales last week in fine fettle. ‘It was great!’ he said ‘I achieved my challenge!’ (Aah! He went away a boy, came back a man!) ‘What was the challenge, son?’ ‘I didn’t poo all week!’
‘Was it beautiful? Were there mountains?’ ‘Dunno. Listen, we had sausages twice for breakfast, and bacon once!!’ ‘Woah! And what did you do all week?’ ‘Oh, stuff…I was posted down this like letter-box thing in this like cave thing…’ I waited for a little detail on the geological niceties of the River Adventure Walk, the Coastal Visit (ox-bow lakes, cliff slump…this could trigger a life long passion for geography!) but that was the end of the report: sausages, bacon, being posted through a hole.
At bedtime he suddenly disappeared under his blanket and started heaving with grief over the paltry amount of post I’d sent! (one letter, chocolate enclosed).’Everyone else got a letter every day. I only got one all week!’
'But the purpose of going away is to experience separation, independence..’ I protested. But as he nodded, understanding, but crying still, I pictured the little waif, forgotten, watching clouds of love floating from London to Wales into laps other than his (oh oh oh) and I was all of a choke (Poor him! No – poor me! I didn’t know! I do my best!..sort of). I could barely get the words out for Alan downstairs: ‘Everyone else got a letter every day!’ sniff sniff ‘I only sent one!’ sniff.
Things perked up the next morning when Alfie presented me with a gift of Vanilla Fudge from Pendarren (labelled ‘Especially for You, Grandma!’). After a polite but humorous reference to the labelling, I thanked him profusely, fancying myself his favourite. He then presented it to Alan, which wiped the smile off my face, Alan glancing at me nervously, fancying himself the favourite, until I put him straight (‘he gave it to me too!’). Next he gave the coveted fudge to Maddy (he was really enjoying himself now) but she saw straight through him, as wild horses wouldn’t get him spending his own cash on a sibling, especially since he’s still10g of crisps down from when she got a maxi pack and he a multi-pack in the Summer..
As well as Vanilla Fudge and memories of better breakfasts, Alfie brought home with him a spectacularly bad temper (he was wrecked), one run-of-the-mill altercation over the tomato ketchup resulting in blood curdling psycho-screams, a pillow through the air, a shattered light fitting, and shards of lighted glass raining down on our heads (Lord!). I gathered my thoughts (‘sooner or later, someone is going to die’) but that didn’t help, and there wasn’t time to consult my parenting manual about what to do when your child smashes white hot tungsten because his sister won’t pass the ketchup, so, sobered in the presence of lunacy, I chose understatement: ‘Alfie, that behaviour was unacceptable’. This set the psycho-screams off again, so I changed tack and shut up, and Alan and I dropped to all fours, tipping our heads this way and that, trying in the dark to distinguish glass from general flotsam (Everybody don’t move! Put your shoes on! I can’t reach my shoes if I don’t move!). Alfie’s opponent hid in the loo, denying foul play of course, refusing to come out ‘it’s not safe’, all of which distracted us from bickering over the heating (silver lining!) for ‘tis the season to be boiled alive in our house, it being past 1st November.
By the end of Sunday, a hollow-eyed human shock absorber (formerly a mum) suggested a trip to that Mecca for parents who’ve thrown in the towel - The 99p Shop. They were out of safety helmets, which was evidently what we needed, but they did have just the gold spangled Reindeer ornament we were looking for to guarantee a truly great Christmas, and also Poptastic Corn for munching before the TV, which I couldn’t get on quick enough when we got home, faith in family life restored.
‘What about the disco at Pendarren?’ I asked Alfie (nosey parker), as we snuggled. ‘Well some of the teachers were really dancing a lot!’ he said, demonstrating by throwing his arms about violently (I am hoping there are no regrets in that department). ‘And you, did you ask anyone to dance?’ I coaxed. ‘I danced with the Vanilla Fudge’ he said.