The City

(Manchester as woman)

She wakes slowly, takes a while to come around, rubbing her eyes wearily as strangers knock at her door. It is too early to let them in. (Not before she has put her face on.)

But she doesn’t mind them waiting, pacing up and down outside. After all, they have come from all over the world. They all have their particular needs.

She is still working class, at heart. A woodbine dangles from the corner of her mouth as she speaks, her stockings are laddered and torn.

But in public, these days, she’s taken to wearing fancy clothes, adopting airs and graces and chameleon-like traits. A fixed, demure smile hiding those dirty thoughts.

Every now and again, though, the mask slips, old habits and all that, and you find that she’s not averse to flipping you a nicotine-stained finger, or thrusting a broken glass into your unsuspecting face.

They continue to knock, loud and impatient. She gets ready. Ready to flirt coyly over cocktails and crêpes. Ready for the rough hands to slip beneath her frock.

She can court you or fuck you. Claim you or kill you. Wrap you up in promises, or in her own, soiled sheets.

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photograph by Derek Bates

A Conspiracy of Kids

On any given weekend, my bleary eyes fix on the same, numerous complaints clogging up my Facebook newsfeed:

Why is it that all week I have to drag my kids out of bed in time to get ready for school, but as soon as it is weekend they are up at the crack of dawn?

I have often uttered this very refrain myself. These days I can exclude my eldest as she is now school leaving age, and sometimes I have to check-in on her, groping around in her darkened pit, just to make sure that her life support system is still on. But as for the others, once weekend arrives there is a seismic shift in their sleeping patterns.

It is like they are wired up for it.

On weekday mornings, the house remains silent. First I make sure that no signs of a carbon monoxide leak has been detected, (only after my coffee mind) and then I have to raise hell for school. My youngest, James, does a great, recoiling, Bela Lugosi impression when the blinds are opened. He flings a protective arm over his still unopened eyes, writhing in the new light. His sister Millie makes her own play for the Oscar by doing her dying John Wayne act, staggering around her toy strewn bedroom. Although the Duke did not take quite so long to drop. Not even in The Alamo. She sways from one wall to the other like she’s on a keeling vessel. And next in line Courtney comes somewhere between the two, recoiling and staggering, with a babble of barely coherent words strung together. Definitely unappreciative of the way we begin things by me shaking her pillow singing Morning Has Broken.

And then we have the weekend.

Long walks, late nights, it doesn’t matter. One Saturday the idea was for me to take them all on a long walk through the woods to tire them out. We went up hills, down hills, over bridges, balanced over fallen trees, splashed in puddles and waded across rivers. Faces were reddened and feet were aching. We returned home and the next thing I know Courtney was waking me to tell me tea was ready. Foolishly though, my wife and I thought that we would reap the benefits of that long slog in the morning. Nope-business as usual.

Nowadays in our weekend routine lie-ins aren’t even contemplated, never mind expected.  We just prepare for five days of dynamite beneath beds followed by two days of joining in the dawn chorus.

But even in this accepted way of how things are, we are instinctively, fearfully, aware of something else, something huge, looming large on the horizon. Something that you can feel getting closer and closer, and is marked off on the calender by three blood-freezing words:

Summer Holidays Begin

Seven

whole

weeks

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Too late-they’re here. And don’t we know it.

We throw despairing, one-eyed glances in the direction of the digital alarm clock in the instant that we are awakened by screams or laughter or a mixture of the two. For this is no surreptitious sneaking around the house that we are speaking of. One morning, we were shaken from our slumber by the sound of ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come’ booming around the house via the karaoke machine.

“Shannon!” I shouted, she being the eldest and so the most culpable.

“WHAT?” (echoing around the house) “WHAT..what…what…what…what…?”

“Turn that off, it’s six o’clock in the morning!”

“OKAY..Kay…kay…kay…kay..”

Don’t be fooled into questioning my parenting skills. This madness is being played out worldwide. It is a conspiracy of kids. It is happening right under your noses, right now. Pay attention-it is going on in your town, in your community. Even in your street. It is Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a sleep-preventing twist.

Thinking of strategies on how to survive these seven weeks can tip us over the edge. We have to take it a day at a time, marking off the days with bloodshot eyes. We have to somehow keep our focus in the present, until we are close enough to dare to look ahead. Otherwise we will be broken by seeing no light at the end of the tunnel. Just the faint glow of daybreak.

School

(And Dads. Definitely Dads).