Thursday, October 26, 2006

Stick Insects are Fantastic

Dad says that people with dogs grow to look like their pets. Well I think you can nearly say the same thing about houses. Our house for example; it is semi-detached and Victorian, just like The Parents. Dexter's house was built by his Dad. It is very grand on the outside with lots of columns and sticking out bits (see left) and inside you cannot move for gadgets to save you doing stuff like flicking a light switch or pulling the curtains or flushing the loo. So, too big and full of itself, just like Dexter. My ideal house is in the shape of a spaceship and I think you will agree, it is a bit special.

Anyway I'm going to Miranda's and her house is tall and thin and rambling just like her dad.
'Come in, come in, come in, Wilfredo,' he rambles and I step into the tiny thin porch full of wellies and big raincoats. We are standing very close together in the porch, not going anywhere. 'Just call me Chas,' he says and he peers up at the ceiling. 'Chas, Chas...'
Miranda decides to join us in the tiny porch, so I move behind one of the big coats to wait for a decision about actually going further into the house.
'HELLO,' she bellows at her father, 'WHAT ARE YOU DOING? '
'If I'm right,' says Chas pointing, 'that is a charming little wasp spider...'
'NO! You'll frighten it! I'll take a photograph!'
And I think they start fighting, I can't really see.
'Just what are you doing in the porch, Charles? Where is your guest, Miranda?' This must be the voice of the fever-struck, one armed mother.
I brave it and stick a hand out through the coats and wave. 'Hello.'
She laughs. It is a nice laugh. Maybe she is normal. She looks normal, even her arm. 'Fantastic camouflage, Wilf. Worthy of a stick insect, I think!' Hmmm.

Turns out Miranda's Mum is quite cool. She keeps a selection of false arms in the kitchen on a sort of rack. At the kitchen table, Miranda and me eat baked beans and fishfingers and fizzy orange. Then we have chocolate cake with ice-cream for pudding - not a weevil or an ant in sight and I am dizzy with fullupness.
'Do you want to have a battle?' asks Miranda in a furtive sort of voice when her Mum has gone out of the room.
I shrug. I am not used to battling with girls. She raises one eyebrow and picks an arm off the rack. 'Go on - if you dare!'
I grab an arm and we sit at the table and lock hands for arm wrestling. Miranda is very good.
'You must practise,' I say, puffing as my false arm flies off the table for the third time.
'Yeah but Mum is the best,'
'Your Mum arm-wrestles?!' I cry. 'With her actual arms?'
Miranda nods. 'All the time, she's a national false-arm-wrestling champion.'
I AM IMPRESSED though I don't tell her that.
'Do you want to see the stick insects?' asks Miranda.
'Could do,' I say.
So we do and that is when I fall in love for the first time. Her name is Stinky and she is a thorny stick insect who has just become a mother and I am going to have her babies. Stick insects are fantastic. Just look at them! I am sure The Parents will love them.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Come and Join us for Tea

It is always a bit odd going to play at someone's house for the first time. You know that person from school and they seem OK when you are with them in the playground. But it can go funny when people are in their own rooms. They can turn in to the world's biggest selfish person and show you their toys but not let you touch them or just sit on the gameboy all day while you go off and play with a football on your own or their Mum takes over and makes you Play Properly (see left). On the other hand I once had Tyson over to play and he didn't show up - turns out he saw someone more interesting down the road and his mum took him to play with them. He didn't even know them. He said he'd forgotten my address. Hmmm.

Anyway when I got home there is a man standing in the sitting room as though he owns it. He has one beefy hand on the mantlepiece and the other sausagey fingers are waggling about in the air as he spouts on about beetles. He has dark floppy hair and a face which juts out at you. On the end of his chin is a beard so small and pointy you wonder why he bothers. And I know him from somwhere, I just cannot remember where. The Parents are both sitting down, nodding their heads as though he is actually interesting to them. Mum is also grinning in a soppy way and Dad is stroking his bushy crumbcrusty beard.
He finally sees me and says, 'Wilfred, this is Dr Morten. He has come over to ask you something...'
Pointy beard chortles and says, 'Oh, call me Chas, please!' Mum giggles.
That's it! Chas Morten, the Bug Man off the TV! Mum LOVES him. I think he is rubbish. The man who tracks dangerous predators is much better. Chas puts a hand through his hair.
'Good to meet you, Wilfred. Miranda has told me all about you!'
'HELLO WILF,' Miranda calls from somewhere in the house, could be down the road with her voice. Right now it feels like an invasion.
'Miranda makes friends so easily,' says Chas as she strolls into the room and stands beside him, 'comes from having such a cosmopolitan upbringing I suppose. We've travelled all over the world with my job.'
'And your wife?' asks Mum, smiling, 'are we going to meet her?'
He tuts. 'Malaria - again.' It's her own fault, forgot to take the tablets. Still she manages.'
Mum stops smiling and gulps. 'Has she seen the doctor?'
'Oh, we saw a doctor a couple of years ago when she caught yellow fever down the Zambezi.'
'No, Daddy,' pipes up Miranda, 'that was lassa fever and it was a year ago; she lost an arm after a pirahna attack two years ago!'
And they both laugh at their silly mistake. Dad pulls at his beard and some hair comes out.
'Then there's the food poisoning on top of the malaria, daddy.' Miranda makes a serious face. 'The doctor said you're not allowed to keep those fungus eating woodlice in the kitchen...'
'Can't eat them anymore either, I suppose,' says Chas and he sighs.
They both sigh. The Parents look at one another.
'When are you off bug hunting again?' asks Dad. 'Soon?'
'No!' says Chas, 'I'm on weevil watch!' As though that explains anything.
'Right,' says Dad.
'Weevils!' laughs Chas, 'Don't you just love them?'
'Especially on toast,' nods Miranda.
'I'll say! Anyway,' says Chas, 'maybe young Wilfred like to come and join us for tea? Can't eat the weevils though - sorry.'
I have never seen my Mum's eyes wider. 'Aren't you playing football with, Dexter?'
'I think Dexter is coming over here, Wilf,' Dad is nodding fiercely at me.
That does it. 'If he's coming, I'm going,' I say.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

I Don't Care

If you talk to Grandpa Jack about football victory moves, he tuts and says that you should be in the game for the playing . He believes that football should be played in long trousers, that pipesmoking is OK while you are on the pitch and that the best move you can do is a 'plucky move'. See left - titchy boy tackles boy twice his size.

Not once or twice in our rough island story
The path of duty was the way to glory
He that walks it, only thirsting

For the right, and learns to deaden
Love of self, before his journey closes...'

From Young England for 1912, p237

So, I am not talking to Dexter. He walks to the bus queue with Tyson, not me and I can see them practising their football scoring victory things; Dexter does a jump with two fists in the air (he copied that off me) and Tyson does a knee slide and gets a telling off from The Trundle. Meanwhile Oliver-James follows me like a giant annoying puppy,

'Why aren't you wearing your Alan badge, Wilf? When's the first meeting, Wilf? Can I bring my Uncle Alan, Wilf?'
Dexter is at the head of the bus queue and is laughing his head off with the others.
I don't care.
'IT'S ALIEN!' I bellow up at Oliver-James (he is too tall) , 'A-L-I-E-N - ALIEN!'
'It says Alan,' Oliver-James shrugs. 'I don't want to be an alien - that's just weird.'
He chucks the badge on the concrete.
'Aliens aren't weird!' I call after him, 'they are really interesting and they are really here! There might even be some in the school! You could be one!'
'I'd rather be an Alan,' Oliver-James calls back. 'I bet Alans have more fun.'

Miranda gets on the bus as well. She walks all the way to the back of the bus and squeezes next to me and Itisham. This is where Dexter normally sits but today Dexter is sitting with Tyson in front of me.
I don't care.
Itisham has his mini-gameboy from McDonalds and is trying to make it work by stamping on it.
I have a go and use my conker and it actually goes 'beep' before it dies.
'That's rubbish,' says Dexter twisting round. 'I've got a proper gameboy at home - it's really good.'
I know about this because I have played for a long time on Dexter's really good gameboy.
I just say, 'humph.' Dexter gives me a look.
'SO WHAT?' butts in Miranda with her very loud voice. 'SOME PEOPLE ARE POOR AND DON'T HAVE PROPER GAMETOYS!'
'We're not poor!' says Itisham.
'It's Gameboys!' I laugh. She knows nothing.
'Shut up,' says Dexter, looking at me. 'You didn't mind playing with my gameboy!'
'SOME PEOPLE DON'T KNOW HOW TO COOK AND ONLY EAT IN MACDONALDS!' Miranda just carries on shouting about what she thinks.
'We know how to cook!' Itisham stands up and barges past her.
'Dexter only eats in MacDonalds,' I sigh. He is so lucky.
'I like MacDonalds!' snarls Dexter. 'But I don't like you.' He moves down the bus with Tyson.
'What?' I turn to Miranda. 'What is his problem?'
And for once I agree with her. I shrug.
I don't care.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

One Conker to Rule them All

The thing is that about now everyone goes bonkers about conkers. So a pause for a bit of conker stuff. Conkers is an ancient game played by kings and peasants and arch- bishops for all I know. It is actually fantastically violent and was nearly banned in our school a few years ago when an unknown hero actually managed to break the headteacher's wrist. You must understand, the idea is to break your opponent's conker and not their wrist but this can be a nice bonus. Other hazards when playing conkers are conker splinters flying into your face, loss of one or both eyes, bits of conker innard in your mouth and severe bruising on any exposed part of your upper body bits. Apart from that it's perfectly harmless and even Mrs Trundle, our teacher has a go (the rumour is that's how she lost her eye - cool).
Roald Dahl was a big conker fan and he tells us in his book, 'Roald Dahl, My Year' that,
'...a great conker is one that has been stored in a dry place for at least a year. This matures it and makes it rock hard and therefore formidable.'
It's true. Dexter tried soaking his in vinegar for a week and Tyson baked his in the oven at a very low temperature for six hours. Useless - they went for looks and not inner toughness. Typical.

Top tips
- choose a conker with a sharp edge (not the big round ones)
- the shinier it is the less likely it is too win (thin and soft inside)
- keep it for one year or more before use (tough dull shell)
- keep your eye on the conker when aiming
- keep your head still when firing
- practise

For the full low down on how to play, follow the link. It's not just bashing (unless you are Dexter) it is like science, seriously.

The world conker championships have just begun at Ashton in Cambridgeshire. This has been going since the olden days or 1965. The grown-ups have taken over, it's The Alan Club all over again.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I Know a Dog Called Alan

If I ever get a dog it will not be so titchy you can plop it in a waterbowl or so big you need an entire beach just so's it can turn its head. And it will not be called ALAN. It will be called Dave.

So now I am having to go round the school being called Alan and although I have an Uncle Alan and I know a dog called Alan, I do not want to be called, Alan. It is somehow even less exciting than Wilfred.
Outside the classroom, Dexter says, 'Why d'you make me get all these stupid badges? You can keep them, I'm off to the loo.'
And he dumps the bulging Spar bag full of useless Alan badges on me and runs off before I can punch him. I have to get into class pretty sharpish because we are having a big spelling test and I haven't written all of the words on my arm yet but then Mr Bagnall, the new teacher, saunters past me in the corridor; this time without baby-children attached to his legs.
'Oh, badges! Let me see!' He picks one out of the bulging Spar bag, '"The Alen Club,"' he reads. 'I see.' He doesn't of course but he does not want to ask what it means because that would be insulting to me. I tell him
'It's meant to be The Alien Club,' I say, 'but there's a letter missing and nobody will join only Oliver-James and he joins everything.'
Mr Bagnall nods wisely and pushes his multi-coloured glasses up his beaky nose. 'I'll join,' he says and pins a badge on the middle of his tie with all the smiley faces on it. 'In fact I'll pass them round the staff room and who knows by lunchtime you could have a whole gang of us in your club!'
I am open-mouthed with horror. Me, Oliver-James and a big bunch of teachers - what kind of a club is that?!
He puts up a hand and shakes his long hair. 'No, don't thank me, I'm here to help you, William.'
He takes the bag from my nerveless fingers and leaves. I go into the classroom and get 3 out 12 in my spelling test - not bad considering.

The horror of The Alan Club teachers