This title doesn’t summarise my week at all; but then, perhaps it does. Upstairs are my daughter and her three friends (two guys and a girl), and at some point they will rouse themselves and all want scrambled egg for breakfast. I have two main cooking skills: cakes (and in the kitchen is a birthday cake waiting to have 24 candles blown out) and scrambled egg. Truly, I have never come across scrambled egg better than mine. That’s it, though; I’m not much good at cooking anything else.
It was a strange night. I took the kids into town for a night out, came home, ironed, and went to bed. But at about 5 this morning, my door opened, and my daughter’s friend (the girl) came in. “Wrong door,” I said; it’s an easy mistake to make in our house. “Mm-mm,” she grunted, and made a sleeping gesture, two hands to the side of her face. I don’t know who she had been sharing with, but it was obviously not working, so she joined me in my double bed and slept immediately. I was surprised, to say the least. My kids’ generation bunk down willy-nilly with anyone; but I would never have dreamt of doing this when I was 24. I guess it’s good that they feel they can.
Anyway. This week. All train services between Worcester and London are disrupted by works. I had to get a bus from Evesham to Oxford. Big coffee before I left. No loos on bus. But the meeting in London was good, and in the evening I finished putting together a book of pieces by one of my prison writing groups. It’s really good, I think, and they are very pleased with it.
My current prison writing group is doing amazingly well. We have two proficient writers, who help the two new guys, while producing reams of stuff themselves. I know that if I give this group a choice of two things to do for homework, they will do both. On Tuesday afternoon I did a taster session for a literacy group who weren’t expecting me, and they gave it a go, despite all having the attention span of a gnat. When a member of the education staff came in to check that everything was ok, she hit upon the moment when they were all thinking hard and writing, so it all looked stunningly good; a few minutes later and she would have had a different point of view.
But the next day was one of the bad ones, when you become convinced that the whole system is insane. First, an officer told us of a guy who had missed a probation appointment; he had phoned them to ask if it was ok to do this – his wife was in labour, and they had said yes; and six days later, the police came and brought him to jail, for missing his probation appointment. Then I met a young guy who is writing his life story. He is 23. When he was four, he saw his father kill a policmen; at five, his brother started him smoking weed; by the time he was 15, his father had beaten him up and put him into hospital several times, and then thrown him out of the house. He had been living rough since then, breaking into houses to get stuff to sell to buy food and lots of alcohol. His liver was completely messed up, and he wouldn’t live long unless he stopped drinking. In prison, he was starting to read and write – he had hardly been to school at all – and wasn’t drinking, and at last he has a chance to find a decent life. I found myself hoping that he will get a long sentence. What is it if we have to hope that a man gets a long sentence, because prison is the best thing that he has known?
And then, and then – I was told by the Governor to scrap the front-page piece in the newsletter. There was nothing wrong with it, really; it’s all just politics. When you say you work in a prison, people often think that it must be bad working with prisoners, but actually they are the good bit, the easy bit. And finally, I saw the frustration of a nice guy – ok, I know he’s a criminal but he has served his sentence and sorted himself out – who should be out; he can leave when he has somewhere to live. But although he has priority on medical grounds, the council won’t help him find a place to live because they say he made himself voluntarily homeless six years ago – by coming into prison. The whole system seems crazy.
I’m lucky, though. I could go out in the evening and see the lovely Matt Harvey, one of my favourite poets, who cheered me up no end.
It was the hospital the next day, working with a lady who, it seemed, spoke only and always in cliches. Not easy to come up with an original poem.
On Friday I was on Radio Gloucestershire! They had asked me to read one of my flood poems – a guy from near me is going on the plinth and reading poems about Tewkesbury, and he’s going to take some of mine. It was all very quick, though, and I didn’t get a chance to wish him luck.
Loads of writing up and prep and rewriting the newsletter front page, tidying and making the cake… I’m helping to run a course on Monday, and yesterday we learned that the main trainer might not be able to come, so I need to do lots more prep than I had expected. And later today it’s off to Liverpool with my son to see the Lightning Seeds.
It’s all a bit like an exercise I sometimes set groups in making metaphors: in what ways is abstract x like concrete y? How is life like scrambled egg? I feel myself coming back to the cliche lady in the hospital – but my take is that life is mostly delicious, but you might need to spend a bit of time just hanging around waiting.