Diabetes! By Luke Martin-Jones.

I was about five or six years old when I realised Mum wasn’t like everyone else. She was a type I Diabetic and had been so since her early childhood. The story was, she was sat toasting crumpets on the fire in my Grandmothers parlour, when flames jumped out of the grate in front of her face, sending my Mother into a state of shock; from that moment on Mum became diabetic. Like most family stories, I really couldn’t tell you if it was true or not; rather like urban myths, they take hold and become the accepted story of how something happened. The reality of my Mum’s situation was really about her good fortune, being born when she was. She was one of the first people to be given insulin, without which she wouldn’t be here today. As Mum copes with the effects of long term diabetes, I am reminded of a childhood, spent with a lady who fought hard to keep herself strong in the face of illness and the challenges around monitoring her condition.

It was Monday morning, a school day, approaching 7 am. Mum was calling from the bottom of the stairs, trying to get me up for another day. I was never good at waking early at the best of times, let alone at the beginning of the week. Having to go to a school that I hated; suffering yet more bullying, that by now had become commonplace, was a part of my youth, I would rather forget. Laying in bed, I sighed, stretched my arms into life and reluctantly fell out of bed, slowly walking towards the bathroom!

I had had a bath the night before; Sunday was always bath day! After a quick strip wash at the sink I cleaned my teeth and brushed my mass of 70s hair, a huge birds nest on top of my head that made me look fatter than I already was; yes I was a fat kid; yet another reason to get bullied. At nine years old, I had already become impervious to the actions of others, staying very much away from the fray, keeping myself to myself, ignoring the haters. I stamped down the stairs, turned right at the bottom and headed into the kitchen.

The kitchen was a hive of activity. Mother was busy cooking breakfast for my brother and I, as well as Dad, who was due home from his night shift. She had already been up since 6 am and was due to work at the local Co-op after everyone was fed and watered ‘Sit down at the table you two, breakfast wont be long!’ she exclaimed, a little more distracted than usual. Mum hadn’t had her morning injection yet, something she had to do three times a day, before eating and was feeling a little queasy. At the time, we didn’t really know what was going on with her health, just that she had to inject herself each day, a process I never witnessed fully, turning my head away, not wanting to see the needle pierce the skin.

With breakfast on the table and Dad’s food left simmering on the stove, Mum finally sat down. She looked tired as she lent back on the kitchen chair. From her bag she took out her hypodermic needle and reached over towards the fridge, where her insulin was stored, producing a small vile of the clear liquid, that kept her alive. She pierced the rubber top of the bottle with the needle, pulling back the head of the syringe, allowing the liquid to pour inside, finally flicking the glass tube with her fingers, removing the air bubbles inside. ‘Turn away if you want to, I know how much you hate it,’ Mum said gently, smiling, eye brow raised; we both looked towards the wall.

Peeping behind my hand, I managed to see Mum lift the bottom of her blouse, exposing a her stomach. She had been injecting for so many years that this was the only place she could now use to insert the needle. ‘All done, you can look now,’ Mum announced, as she placed the syringe into her bag away from our tiny inquisitive hands.

This was a typical morning, a procedure I witnessed throughout my childhood. Mum never had it easy, but always coped remarkably well; she never complained and just accepted her lot. Spending a lifetime on insulin has taken its toll, Mum isn’t as well as she used to be, wheelchair bound and suffering from a double leg amputation. She remains stoical in the face of adversity, not wanting to accept help from others. The time is coming however, when the children at the breakfast table, will have to take on the responsibility that Mother afforded to us.

Swimming! By Luke Martin-Jones

It was Wednesday afternoon, not my most favourite day of the week, Wednesdays were swimming days and in truth it was the last thing I wanted to do. I had tried playing hooky before and been caught out; hauled up in front of the class I was given a good dressing down and told to ‘buck my ideas up’ if I wanted to complete the compulsory course of lessons, designed to make us water aware, submerging undignified in a pool of filthy water, used by everyone else and all the germs that bred in it. I wasn’t fond of Wednesdays at all, in all respects, not just the swimming but the whole darn process.

As a teenager I was an early developer and objected strongly to spending time in changing rooms and showers with those I went to school with. I mean, who actually thought it was a great idea, to throw a group of adolescent boys together, during puberty, showering together in front of a PE Teacher; it really wasn’t for me! At thirteen years old, I was well aware of my sexuality, the signs were always there. If I was sure of who I was, then others were aware too. Once over the embarrassment of changing in front of ones peers, it was time to begin the lessons.

It was cold, as I tiptoed out of the locker rooms and into the swimming arena. The pool was alive with the screams of children. In the distance I heard the sound of a whistle being blown, by a lifeguard perched at the far end of the pool. It was time for the first group of kids to leave and us to begin our lessons.

Situated at the shallow end, were floats, arm bands and other strange looking contraptions, designed to keep us afloat, as we all strived for the same thing, learning to swim. Most of us were well versed in the procedures employed by Mrs Hanson, a formidable looking lady, dark permed hair and what I can only describe as craggy features, heavily wrinkled face, sporting an almost burnt orange tan. Dressed in blue tracksuit bottoms and a white T shirt, she was tall, thin and a force to be reckoned with; she scared the living daylights out of me. Her approach to teaching can only be described as ‘sink or swim,’ her lack of empathy was typical of the time. There were no allowances for failure; you did as you were told, or else.

There was just me at the shallow end, everyone else had already migrated to the deep side of the pool. For the life of me, I just couldn’t swim, it really wasn’t in me and with a coach like Mrs Hanson, it was highly unlikely to happen anytime soon. I stood in the middle, still holding onto the side with my right hand, when Mrs H, told me to let go of the edge and slowly swim towards her hands, stretched out before me. I hesitated, panicked and shook my head in protest. She asked again, firmly, with a scowl on her face. After thinking for what seemed like an age, I threw myself forwards and swam towards her hands.

I was nearly there and could almost feel the end of her nails. Everything was a blur, my eyes were soaked in water, my mouth and nose also, I could barely breath; flapping my hands with terror, I really thought I would make it. Then she took her hands away, quickly without warning; I sunk like a brick. Shouting for help I gasped for air, trying to get to the surface, finally lifted out by the lifeguard, who placed me at the side of the pool. Coughing, spluttering with my heart pounding, I finally came back to life; battered, bruised with loss of dignity and pride, I gingerly left the pool, never to return again.

In the end I was awarded a certificate like everyone else, not for the metres I had swam but for endeavour, for trying hard; a piece of paper, that I still have to this very day, a momento of a time I would rather forget. That final lesson was so traumatic for me, that I never learnt to swim again. I am content enough to realise I tried my best, leaving a mark on my life that I can write about today!

Rejecting Modernity! by Luke Martin-Jones

It was about a year before, when I was at a friends house that I realised I wanted one. It was truly amazing, another world and one of the best presents a young boy like me could wish for. In the mid 1980s modernity jumped head long into my life; a technological revolution and the development of a personal computer was firmly planted into the psyche of a generation, just waiting to break away from the past, establishing their credentials as inheritors of the crown. The future was rubber keys, the future was Sinclair.

The shops were heaving, customers were pushing and shoving their way around the packed isles. Supermarket trollies were full to bursting with everything one needed for a gastronomical feast. As Mum and Dad paid for their weekly shopping at the checkout in Sainsbury, I briefly wondered outside. Looking past the cafe in the centre of the Mall, I spotted Curry’s electrical shop directly opposite; in the shop window the newest gadget to hit the shelves was displayed, the ZX Spectrum 48K. I ran over as fast as I could, nose pressed against the glass, watching ‘Daly Thompson’s Decathlon’ being enacted on the screen. In awe of the graphics, amazed by the colour, I imagined myself owning one. Looking down at the price tag, 125 pounds, I realised it was too expensive for me to buy, sighed and walked back to the supermarket, waiting outside.

Mum and Dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I took the chance. I wanted ‘The Spectrum computer’ and hoped they would agree. At first they were a little unsure about what I was referring to, so I grabbed a copy of Mum’s Kay’s Catalogue under the coffee table in the lounge, flicking through the pages until I found what I was looking for. ‘Here it is, this is what I want. It will be the bestest Christmas present of all’ I retorted excitedly. After several minutes of hesitation, confused expression on their faces, they both agreed; I couldn’t wait for Christmas Day.

Santa arrived early once again. It always seemed strange to me, that the old man arrived before I got up, never did I catch him, not once, even when I surfaced at 12am. This was a present, delivered directly to the bottom of my bed, placed in a pillow case, rather than being left in the sitting room, as was usual. I guess this was a gift, that was just too bulky to be left under the tree. At 3am I was up and awake, ripping wrapping paper and trying to get to grips with my new toy; a personal computer, the modern age sitting on my lap; shiny, untouched waiting to be unlocked.

Setting up the ZX Spectrum on my desk was the easy bit, connecting the wires to the TV, loading games was another matter. One had to place a cassette in a player then wait for it to load; a screeching, whining rendition that sent shivers down my spine; so much so, I left the room, made a turkey sandwich, popped the kettle on, used the toilet on the way back and still had time to spare, before the tape had even loaded. I managed half an hour or so at the helm before everything went ‘Pete Tong!’ Two hours later I was back playing another round until the inevitable ZX Spectrum problems kicked in once again.

In the end, I probably used my new computer no more than ten times. Frustration, impatience and annoyance at the cumbersome piece of 80s kit got the better of me. After throwing it across the room, on several occasions, I decided it was best to retire the rubber wonder before it drove me insane. This slice of retro design, remained in my parents loft, until it was sold at a local car boot sale, ten years later. I never bought another PC again until the late 1990s. Sir Clive Sinclair had done what no one else could: turning my love of gadgets into a dislike of the modern world. I remained steadfast in my rejection of all things avant-garde and progressive for many years, although look back with fondness at the little black box that made my life hell, after all if it wasn’t for Clive, I wouldn’t be typing on this laptop today. I am truly amazed at just how far we have come in such a short space of time!

(First published in Roaming Brit on 3rd June, 2018)

Why I Run.

It was 1966 and my family and I were living in Cornwall. My dad had been stationed there with the Navy. My little sister was born there. Yes, she decided to arrive right in the middle of the May Day Festival so it was touch and go for my mum and dad to get through the festivity traffic to the hospital. No dancing around the May Pole for my mum on that day!

I remember sitting on a swivel stool in the middle of this large sterile room. There were lots of grey looking cabinets in the room, some being used as dividers to make pockets of workspace.

The nurse was an older lady in her late fifties. Clothed in a nurse’s blue and white striped dress and a white starched apron, her short gray curly hair graced a small white cap under which sat a cross face. Her voice was sharp.

“Take one of your arms out of your cardigan”, she trilled.

“Take your cardigan off”, my mum said. I took my cardigan off and gave it to my mum. She folded it up and held it on her lap where my little sister sat. “It won’t hurt,”, my mum said.

I wondered what wasn’t going to hurt. I sat back on the stool. I looked around. There was a stainless steel sink in the room, cotton wool, lots of different types of grey canisters. Despite so many objects in the room, the grayness left it barren and cold.

“Keep still” the nurse said in her loud shrill voice. Startled out of my reveries, I turned towards the harsh voice and saw the syringe and needle flying through the air like a dart. As it pierced my arm on landing, I howled in pain.

The nurse tutted and sighed. Impatiently, she stuck a plaster on my arm. The tears poured down my face.

The nurse walked briskly and emotionlessly across the room. My mum cuddled my sister as her screams joined mine. Then we were ushered quickly out of the room.

A few months later after our small pox injection, we flew out to Singapore where my Dad had been reassigned. Every six months we had to have a booster. Filled with that memory and terror, I took full advantage of my mother looking after my little sister and ran away as we queued up for the jab. My mum would have to leave my little sister with someone in the queue and chase after me. She was not happy with me. But jabs frightened me more than my mother’s disapproval.

Today, when I go in for my flu jab or to have my blood drawn, I wish I was five again and that I could run away. I remind myself that I volunteered for this; that is a beneficial thing. I breath deeply and try to focus on something else – anything else – but my brain is not disciplined enough and my body tenses up in anticipation. My head starts to spin and my breathing becomes shallow and fast. My legs are unable to run but my heart is racing faster than my legs ever could.

Then as fast as this anticipated event came concurrent, it is over. I am able to breathe more deeply, my muscles relax, and relief washes over me. It didn’t hurt that much and I wonder why I worried about it so much. But then I remember the nurse with the scowled face and it all makes sense.

School Dinners! By Luke Martin-Jones

Mrs Brooks class was a hive of activity; each table had their own projects to complete. Paints, Crayola crayons and multicoloured pencils were laying haphazardly across the desks; all of us chatting with each other. I was in a mischievous mood, flicking paint at the girl sat next to me. By the end of the lesson, we were both covered in an assortment of acrylic, not even the plastic aprons would save us. Mrs Brooks walked over, she looked angry, the frown on her face revealing. Taking us both to one side, she gave us a good telling off and a smack on the back of the legs. I’d been spanked before, standing outside the headmistresses office for the rest of the day; I was an old pro, so hardly reacted; the young lass shed a few tears and we were both ordered to the toilets to clean up before lunch. By the time I had finished, I was in a worse state than before, soaking wet, dripping all over the floor. Cautiously I walked back into class, hoping to avoid catching Mrs Brooks eye. Sheepishly, I sat down at my desk, looking away from her gaze. My friend sat next to me facing the other way, so I did the same; friends no more!

It was dinner time, the bell sounded in the hall. Everyone started to tidy their desks. ‘Quietly, do it quietly!’ shouted Mrs Brooks, trying to make herself heard over the commotion in class. ‘I said quietly!’ she repeated once again. Suitably calm and composed, sitting in our seats, we always said a little prayer before dinner. ‘Close your eyes, hands together,’ shouted Mrs B:

‘Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.’

Everyone queued in two neat lines, boys one side, girls the other, holding hands as we made our way to the hall. We were on the last sitting today, the canteen was running a little later than usual; the queue unusually ending outside the door. Children jostled for pole position, pushing in front of their peers, wanting to get their food first. I was leant up against the wall, patiently waiting my turn. Mum had always taught me how to behave and never to bulldoze my way to the front; it wasn’t the right thing to do.

My new Clark’s sandals were rubbing the heals of my feet; lifting each one up in turn, I tried to ease the pain. Someone kicked me in the back of the legs. The procession of school children was so long, I didn’t see who it was. Turning, I faced the front, standing up straight, arms folded in protest. Scuffing my shoes, backwards and forwards (The mark of a petulant child, Mrs Brooks always said.) Trying to pass the time, I eventually reached the front of the calvalcade; picking up my mint green coloured plate. Today, soggy roast potatoes, lots and lots of cabbage, boiled to within an inch of its life and minced meat in gravy. Funny enough, I still cook this today; comfort food if you like. For desert, chocolate pudding with thick, lumpy pink blancmange; another dish I look back on with fondness.

The noise in the hall was deafening as I hesitantly walked to the table at the back of the hall, where my friends were already sat. I took the chair at the end, leant back and waited for the Dinner Lady to appear. I can’t remember her name now, but she always came over and helped me cut up my food into bite sized pieces and filled the large metal water jugs on the table, that needed two hands to lift. I precariously charged my glass, most of it spilling over, quickly wiped away by another monitor; dressed in a pink and white tabard, wearing a small white hat and hairnet, that really did nothing to stop hair falling into the food. Part of the course when you ate school meals.

Dinner over it was time to return to class, each of us waiting in turn, to be escorted back for an afternoon of ‘Drama and Dance,’ my favourite lesson. ‘Time to work off all that extra energy after lunch,’ said Mrs B! ‘Time to get big and strong!’

I always have fond memories of school lunches; plain, basic filling food, typical of the time; in contrast the lunches of today. As a product of the 70s, we appreciated the simpler things in life; as children we had very little, none of us any more than anyone else. School Dinners are a reminder of the happy times, spent with friends, enjoying those first steps into childhood; a period when peoples values were different; a time of innocence in a changing World!

(First Published in Roaming Brit on 28th March, 2018)

‘Making Waves’ by Luke Martin-Jones

There was a distinct chill in the air, lots of glum faces; a rumbling of discontent throughout the school, as pupils digested the latest attempt to reshape our place of learning, conforming to more traditional ideals. It was a few days earlier that each of us were given a letter to hand to our parents announcing the introduction of a new school uniform in keeping with the schools new name and status within the community in which it served. In was 1983, I was in my second year of senior school, at a time when Britain was suffering the spectre of recession. Money was in short supply, unemployment was high and the cost of living out of control. The last thing families needed was another bill to contend with; the price of our new identity would not come cheap. Understandably disaffection was bubbling to the surface, as pupils decided to take matters into their own hands.

It was late afternoon, double Science, probably one of my least liked subjects. Looking around the room, there seemed to be a lot of absences, the class was rather sparse and lackluster; the few of us who were there had thoughts elsewhere. As I glanced out of the window onto the playground below, I could see a group of students milling about, talking, shaking their heads, arms raised in consternation. Even I felt anxious and I didn’t know why. There was an atmosphere of revolution and insurrection; rebellion was in the air.

I could hear whispers behind my back, two classmates talking about joining the growing throng outside. One tapped me on the shoulder, ‘are you coming?’ they said. Confused I asked what they meant; I was oblivious to events unraveling around me. ‘We are going on strike; there’s a protest on the all weather pitch, everyone will be there!’ they exclaimed, encouraging me to join them and make our voices heard. I understood that there could have been a demonstration about the new rules being introduced at the school, but really brushed them aside as ‘just talk.’ I was surprised that my friends were taking matters into their own hands and a little apprehensive about what would happen to those of us who took part!

Briefly I thought about what I should do; looking out the window, I could see more and more classmates joining ‘pupil power’ in action. I turned back to face my peers, nodding my head in agreement. As our Science Teacher continued his lesson on photosynthesis, I duly packed my brown adidas bag and abruptly left the room, all three of us heading downstairs. ‘What do you think you are doing? Come back here now!’ I heard Mr Roche shout as we left the room; running quickly down the stairs and outside into the busy thoroughfare below, we joined everyone else in our campaign for justice!

I don’t remember the exact number who took part that day, though it was quite a few. Chanting and cursing we made our way through the school and onto the playground beyond, refusing to move until the powers that be, retracted the requirement for compulsory school uniforms. A sit down protest on the edge of school created waves, as teachers tried to encourage us to return to class. Of course as time went on and stomachs began to groan, pupils started to leave anyway. In truth when I look back to this time, I was carried along with the sea of emotion surrounding this stance. I really didn’t care if I had to wear a shirt and tie or not, in fact it was the best thing for the school, but when you become part of a crowd you tend to follow the course, losing all sense of reality, forgetting just what the initial action was about in the first place. As children, fickle to the core, a few hours off last thing in the afternoon, became our overriding ambition.

The school uniform remained, those of us who took part were given detention and we had our day in the local rag but the reasons for our discontent didn’t go away. Changing the identity of anything, whether school, person or brand, can only be done with the support and influence of all of those impacted. In future pupils and parents were consulted every step of the way. New rules were implemented without the frustration and anger that surfaced that day.

(First Published in Roaming Brit on 16th May, 2018)

The Bread and all its Terror

This is a little more painful to write about. Fast forward one more year. I am now a third year senior at Fareham Park Comprehensive School which now has some newer buildings. The dance and drama studio is built. The music rooms are ready to go. The gym is built. We have an all weather pitch, a track, tennis courts and many more facilities for physical education. We have a building for art, woodwork, metal work, sewing and home economics. A far cry from the one building and a couple of modular classrooms that we had two years earlier.

Now that we have a home economics room, we have cooking on the schedule. This is definitely not fun for me.

The time that stands out most is the day that we made bread. I have little recall of anything else so I assume this is the one time that we cooked and the rest was book work, but I could be very wrong there.

A prelude to the bread story are the images of crowded hallways and stairwells where all the students of the school were changing classrooms, using the toilets, getting stuff out of their lockers. The stairs in particular were a source of consternation. Those girls would wait for me at the top of the stairs, As soon as I started on my way down, they would home in behind me and start to push me down, all the time laughing their heads off. It was hard to keep upright and not slip. I hated it. I had no idea what to do to help myself and to get out of the situation. It may only seem like a little thing, but I felt helpless. There were no teachers around.

These girls were in my tutor group and they were also in my cooking class. Cooking became a big nightmare. There the girls would use wooden spoons to hit me when the teacher wasn’t around. They would laugh in a mocking way. Any type of reaction exasperated the issue. I felt stymied. Powerless.

So it was in this atmosphere that we had to make bread.

There are just a few things that I remember about this bread-making activity. I remember the mixing bowl. I remember the yeast. This wasn’t dry yeast. This was fresh yeast. I remember that it looked dark and grey and pretty gross. We had to add it to our flour and use our hands to mix the dough mixture together. Then we had to knead it until the yeast was all absorbed.

As I write this with an adult’s perspective, something feels off about that yeast. So I read around and now understand that fresh yeast should look firm and moist, cream-colored and cool to the touch. If it is crumbly, dryish and dark in places it is stale. Apparently to use it, it must be added to liquid and mixed into the dough straight away. Here is what I also found on the internet concerning fresh yeast and the processes to activate it:

https://m.wikihow.com/Activate-Fresh-Yeast

In this article it demonstrated that yeast needs to be broken up into smaller parts. I was told to put my yeast and water straight into the bowl. I don’t remember it frothing up. The teacher was hurrying us along. I was taking longer than the others – not a natural cook, I’m afraid. I was kneading away. The yeast was not becoming absorbed into the dough.

I think the teacher was pretty frustrated with me. She didn’t listen to my explanation that the yeast was not amalgamating with the dough but she did come and help knead the dough and got it in the pan.

At last the lesson was over. What a relief. My bread looked really pretty. Despite the events of the day and the ongoing bullying, I was pretty chuffed with my success at cooking this bread.

At home, I was so excited as we were going to eat my bread as an accompaniment to our dinner that evening. I eagerly watched as my mum cut into the loaf.

“Eww! Yuck!” My Mum exclaimed as she cut the loaf in half.

My heart sank. “What’s wrong?” I mumbled.

img_0062-1

“Look!” She said. She turned around from the kitchen cabinet where she was cutting, holding the two halves of the bread in her hands. I looked. Inside each half of the loaf there sat a dark gray piece of yeast. My mum started to laugh. I let her know how I had trouble mixing that yeast into the dough and how the teacher had helped me. I then laughed with my mum although my insides were empty.

When I could, I left the room and went upstairs to my bedroom where I closed the door and cried.

My daughter is a master bread maker. She makes the most gorgeous and succulent bread. Her favourite receipe is found at https://weareeating.blogspot.com/2008/01/whole-wheat-bread.html?m=0

Here is the receipe that my friend gave me a few years back. I usually use this one when I make bread now:

Bread

Ingredients:

10 cups whole white wheat flour;
2/3 cup honey;
6 cups of water;
2 tbsp yeast (dried!);
2 tbsp salt:
3/4 cup oil;
2-3 tsp gluten;
2 tsp lecithin.

Optional: 1/2 to 1 cup ground flax seed substituted for 1 cup whole wheat flour.

Method:

I usually use a bread maker these days. I adapt the quantities of the ingredients accordingly (I do like to add the ground flax also) and follow the instructions of my bread maker.

(First published in Roaming Brit on 15th May, 2018)