Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bananas and steam locomotives

By Andrew Culture


My kids always used to complain about steam locomotives.  Well not so much about the trains themselves, the moaning was more at me for ‘dragging’ them onto whatever steam railway that happened to be near wherever I took them on holiday.  Of course there was always a steam railway within a few miles of any holiday cottage I booked when they were small; I considered a perk of being the one to plan our family holidays.

The phrase ‘family holiday’ makes me sigh, not just because my children have grown up and now have children of their own (hell, one of my girls will soon have grandchildren of her own), but because from when the girls were very young their mum was no longer with us, so the family holidays were just for me and the girls.

I hope the girls remember that their mum used to complain about my insistence on riding the trains as much as they did.  I also hope they remember the funny little things about my wife, their mother.

Just like how I remember the day my mum put me on a train to Suffolk with a banana in my lunchbox, I remember being very excited that I had a banana, none of the other kids on this special train had a banana.  I also remember that when I ate my lunch (twenty minutes out of London Liverpool street) everything in the box tasted of banana.

Even although I was very little at the time, if I had of known it was the last time I’d see my mum I’d have tried desperately to remember every tiny detail of her face as she drifted away from me, pulled from my life by the jolting, noisy smokey train as it lurched out of the station.

A sinking feeling

Picture is unrelated
By Andrew Culture


I remember every spittle specked crease on the bored face of my school careers officer as his jaw worked on auto-pilot. He was giving me the same bit of cliched advice he gave every student in my class that day, ‘Find a job that appeals to your interests and you’ll live a happy life’.  The lack of passion in his voice made his advice sound more like bitter remorse than a gift of positive direction.

Our school careers officer was called Mr.P.Knoll, and one of my more erudite fellow students pondered whether the officer’s first name was ‘Parker’.  I saw his angle; this man who was supposed to top up our enthusiasm levels for a working life (in the pit-stop that is high-school) was the human personification of one of the discarded settees that were omnipresent on street corners in the neighbourhood where I grew up.  He had possibly been loved in the past, but was no longer needed by anyone.  Poor old Knoll may have been happy once, but this shell of a fella who ‘guided’ us had probably spent his life - just like the settees - being suppressed by a fat arse.

We had no idea whether Mr.P.Knoll was married, had been married or if there was any truth in the rumour he was a hermaphrodite, but for high-school students the truth is irrelevant almost to the point of being contemptible.  We know the truth existed somewhere, but we made as little effort to search out truth as truth would make to find us.

During one particularly dull biology lesson one of my mates decided Mr. Knoll was part of a cult, one of those organisations that insists you have twenty wives, only Mr.Knoll had missed something crucial in the smallprint, and somehow the actualisation of that missed detail had turned him from a vibrantly randy twenty-something to this holistically crushed man who now spent his days punting out cliched advice to disinterested teenage turds like us.

I wouldn't say I hold my school careers officer responsible for my current predicament - I may have ended up in here, with this sinking feeling, if I had never met Mr.P.Knoll - but right here, right now, I am pointlessly pondering whether a wholesale refusal to find a job I love might have saved me from slowly drowning in this industrial vat of melted chocolate.