Tag Archives: children

1898. The dead tree

I don’t know if you can see the photo of these two old trees. One’s dead, and the other is barely alive. My husband and I planted these trees years and years ago. He’s dead now – the husband. He planted the dead one. I planted the other one, the one that’s gnarled and barely alive. I’ll be eighty-seven this coming October.

There used to be a house roughly where the person taking the photo would be standing. That was our house. The first and only house we had. The two children were born there. It was our dream place; a lovely house, not too big and not too small, set on twelve acres of what could only be described as park land. We planted those two trees (and a number of others here and there) as part of the “landscaping” of our park. Our life was like a perpetual honeymoon.

Jude had built the house himself. And I helped of course, as best I could. I sewed drapes and did the painting and wall-papering and so on. Jude was the one with the saw and the hammer and the screw driver and the muscle. It was like a dream come true!

After the birth of the second child things fell apart. We’d been in the house for four years and we put it up for sale. No one ever bought it and Jude disappeared before any divorce proceedings began. I leased out most of the land to a neighbouring farmer and stayed in the house with the children. They’re gone now – the children. Tony’s a lawyer up in the big city, and Rachel manages a business that teachers adults how to do basic computer things.

My current house gets quite cold in winter, so I’ve asked Tony to come and cut down that dead tree for firewood. The one that’s barely alive has a few more years left in it. It might sound cruel but I’m looking forward to burning logs of Jude’s tree throughout the winter. It’s good he’s serving some purpose at this stage of my life. Apart from building the house he wasn’t much good for much when he was here. In fact he was useless. And mean; really mean. It’s why I did him in.

1895. Cruel names

Merry was called Merry because she was born on Christmas Day. Clearly her parents didn’t realize that the proper spelling of Mary had also some connection with Christmas. Merry spent her entire life, as a punishment for her parents’ lack of knowledge, saying, “No! That’s not how you spell it!”

Just over two years later, when her little brother was born, it was New Year’s Day, so he was named “Happy”. It was a providential name because when he grew up and began a career in looting he shot a couple of policemen and was known within close circles as “Trigger Happy”.

There was a third child in the family. He was called Roger; short for Roger Mortis. The parents thought it a huge joke because he was born on the very day that Grandma died. Spelling was not the parents’ greatest strength so “Rigor” was registered as “Roger”. Otherwise if he had been born on an ordinary day of the year they had in mind to call the baby Plain Jane if a girl, and Joe Blogs if a boy. And then Grandma stepped up to the plate. Roger had escaped from having a life lumbered with silliness.

Honestly, a number of people were relieved that the parents didn’t create further children. “I’m sure any uncreated children would be more than grateful that they never came into this world,” declared a neighbour, Ms. Stacey Meldrum. Stacey herself has a host of kids. I can only remember the names of three of them; Tabernacle, Vernacular, and Genuflection. After these three Stacey developed an interest in organic chemistry.

1862. Large family

Hi. My name is Nona. My mother named me that. My father apparently didn’t like the name much because it means “ninth” and I happened to be only the third.

“But I want a Nona,” said my mother.

“Who the hell is going to pay for all those babies if we have nine?” asked my father. So my mother, not to be stymied by silly particulars, named me Nona even though I was only number three.

These days Nona is not a very common name, mainly I suspect because people don’t have large families anymore and to get up to nine children could be scorned upon by the disparaging masses. I like having a not-so-common name. I have a younger brother called Octavius and an even younger sister called Decima.

Once my father abandoned the family, not long after I was born, my mother met my stepfather. By the time my mother and stepfather had reached number nine they couldn’t use Nona so they named number nine after the number three because three hadn’t been used. That is why I have a younger sister called Triana. Strictly speaking I should have been named Triana and my sister named Nona.

People these days stare if we all go out together. Just the other day my mother took all ten of us to the zoo and we went by bus. No sooner had we all sat down than an old lady asked my mother in a very loud voice, “Are they all yours, Sweetie?”

My mother said, Yes” and the old lady said “Goodness, that’s a lot. Aren’t you embarrassed?” I was so mortified.

When we got home from the zoo I heard my mother ask my stepfather what the Latin name was for Eleven.

1839. The truth about fairies

Jacquitta took her two children, Vinny and Patience for a walk. Patience was four and Vinny was seven.

“Let’s see if we can find where the fairies live,” said Jacquitta.

“I don’t believe in fairies,” said Vinny.

“Oh, but they’re real,” said Jacquitta wanting to protect little Patience from the reality of an imagination-derelict world. “They live in little mushroom villages. They are usually kind and lovely, but sometimes, if you are mean to them, they can get annoyed and then horrible things can happen.”

“It’s not true,” said Vinny. “My friend said that his mother told him that fairies were made up.”

“I’m sure they live around here,” said Jacquitta. “Oh look children! There’s a mushroom ring! It’s a fairies’ village!”

“It’s not a fairies’ village,” said Vinny. “It’s a pile of poisonous mushrooms.”

Vinny kicked the mushrooms with his foot. He smashed them to smithereens. “See,” he said, “no fairies.”

Little Patience burst into tears. “You’ve hurt the fairies and broken their houses,” she said.

“You are a naughty, naughty boy,” said Jacquitta.

The next morning Vinny woke up with a club foot.

1796. Chocolates for grandparents

Now children, it’s a day to celebrate your grandparents. Grandparents Day! I never had a grandparent myself. They were all dead before I was born except for one grandmother and she was really nasty. In fact, she was in prison for poisoning my grandfather. She poisoned him by injecting weed-killer into homemade chocolates. I was always jealous of those who had proper grandparents. I hated it when other kids talked about their grandparents and how nice they were.

Anyway, I want those who have four grandparents living nearby to form a line here. And those with three grandparents living nearby to form a line here. Those with two grandparents living nearby to form a line here. Those with one grandparent living nearby to form a line here. And those with no grandparents can go outside and play.

I have a basket of chocolates and, depending on what line you are in, you are to take one, two, three, or four chocolates. After school today I want you to go and visit your grandparents and surprise them with a chocolate each for Grandparents’ Day.

I made the chocolates myself using a recipe my grandmother used.

1731. It’s still raining

Heidi Windybank had three children to feed and she’d run out of money. She always put the children first. She’d fed them the last crumbs in the cupboard and now she herself was hungry. She had job interview after job interview. It was getting more and more difficult to look presentable at these interviews. It was getting impossible to pay for a bus ticket to the places of interview.

And suddenly! She got a job! It was cleaning rooms in a motel. She knew how to wield a scrubbing brush. She could make a bed to perfection. The problem was she had tried to scrape together some food for the kids and send them off to school, but they would have to do without lunch. The first pay would not be for another two weeks. She was feeling weak and tired. She had to sit down for a bit.

The motel proprietor popped into one of the rooms to check how she was doing. She was sitting on an unmade bed. The motel proprietor dismissed her there and then. He’d had a bad morning; his attempt to purchase another motel had failed, and he was not going to pay riff-raff to do nothing.

Heidi walked home. She was at the end of her tether.

A man and woman called into the house. Teachers had reported that every day her children had eaten no breakfast and were provided with no lunch. The house was cold. They were poorly clothed. She was maltreating her children. The government was taking over. The children would go into foster care.

Do you know her perhaps? She’s that mad woman who walks up and down the main street all day. Everyone says she’s as cuckoo as they come.

That was last winter. Now it’s summer. It’s still raining.

Repeat of Story 154: Mother Goose gives a lesson

(This is the fourth story in a week or so of repeats. “Mother Goose gives a lesson” first appeared on this blog on 13 March 2014.)

Mother Goose sat all the children in a circle on rugs around the fire.

“Let me tell you a Nursery Rhyme,” said Mother Goose kindly.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

“I believe,” said five year old Johnny putting up his hand, “that although it’s not explicitly described, Humpty Dumpty is typically portrayed as an anthropomorphic egg. Is this correct?”

“Well aren’t we a big know-all, you swollen-headed little prick,” said Mother Goose. “I don’t give a rat’s ass if Humpty Dumpty was a whatever-type-of-bird’s-egg-that-you-said or not. Go take steroids, you puny little nerdy slug.”

With that, she took the children and gave them some broth without any bread, and whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed. Just to teach them a jolly good lesson.

1588. Saplings

Let me tell you how proud I am of my son. Now that I’m older and he’s independent I couldn’t be happier knowing that he was brought up right. Micky is his name. When he was younger there was nothing I taught him that he didn’t pick up straight away like he was a natural. And he was obedient. I only had to say once “Do this” and he’d do it. I rarely had to belt him for not doing things right. Spare the rod, spoil the child, as the saying goes.

You get a kid when he’s young enough and they’re flexible. It’s like a sapling tree. It bends and you can train it to grow in any direction. But once the tree is older there’s no bending it. It’s fixed in its ways.

Well I’m happy to say my son is now old enough for the habits instilled in him earlier to become permanent. And that’s why I tell you that I am proud of him. Sometimes you get things right. These days I don’t need to tell him what house to burgle or how to go about breaking in. He’s a natural. Train a kid early enough and they’ll look after you come what may.

How to… 1: Writing for children to perform on stage

I thought I’d start a new category (for myself) on this blog. Basically it’s called “How”. What it amounts to is not a great deal, but over the past seventy years or so I’ve done the occasional thing and possibly learnt something from the experience.

Writing down these things is probably more for myself reflecting on life than wishing to pass on potentially useless information. Anyway, here goes… Today’s “How” is about writing for children to perform on stage.

I don’t know how many children’s plays and musicals I’ve written over the years – thirty or forty maybe. I’ve also directed quite a few productions. The biggest cast had 1500 children; the smallest cast was 8. So here’s my thoughts in the order they come into my head:

1. Who is the audience? If you write a children’s book the audience is primarily children. It frequently is read aloud by an adult, but basically the writing is for children either reading themselves or being read to. When it comes to writing for the stage, it’s the opposite: you’re writing to entertain adults. Children perform for their parents and grandparents and aunties and uncles. Sure, there are siblings in the audience, but if Mum and Dad are bored so are the kids. If Grandma and Grandpa are laughing hysterically so are the kids in the audience. So here, you’re writing a double-pronged fork: children on stage must perform with an understanding on one level, and adults must be entertained with understanding on another level.

It’s not really as highfaluting as it sounds. An example: the very plain fir tree and the poinsettia are sad because they don’t have pretty flowers like many of the other plants. The fir tree cries, and the poinsettia sings “My heart bleeds for my best friend, red, red.” Children in the audience see a Christmas tree being decorated and the poinsettia turning red (the adults see it too) but the adults better relate to the feelings of rejection portrayed by the fir and poinsettia. While the children are going WOW! the adults are dabbing their eyes. In short, write for the audience not for the performers.

2. Your play is not going to make it big on Broadway or West End. In all likelihood it’s not going to be given a slot at the Sydney Opera House or in Milan. So stop hoping it will. Next time you attend a children’s concert take a peek at the audience. Jesus can be rising from the dead centre stage and Hiroshima can be bombed on stage right. All cameras and phones will be pointed at Betsy in the third line of the chorus or Johnny in the second row. Parents have come to see their kid on stage, not to be gobsmacked by a production of Phantom of the Opera.

So – put every kid on stage and LEAVE THEM THERE. I (nearly always) put bleaches up on both sides of the stage. Children can go up and down onto the stage as required. Or stand and sing where they are. The only thing to practise avoiding is long waits while children move about. Work it so that they will appear almost instantaneously without upstaging while getting into position.

This idea of having everyone on bleaches does away with teaches backstage saying “Shh children! Shh children!” There’s no one out the back, except for a couple of stage hands.

3. No one cares if the teachers are sitting with their students on stage, especially with the littlest children. If the youngest children have to dance around dressed as snowflakes then why not have their teacher in a snowflake hat directing their arm-waving and skipping and singing?

4. If there are songs, solos are of course sung solo, but when it comes to a particular chorus on stage there’s no reason why everyone in the bleaches can’t be singing along too. Besides, if there’s a chorus say of hens and roosters, it’s a lot easier for them to mess around and scratch with their masks on if they don’t have to worry too much about singing.

5. Regarding the learning of songs… Many a time have I been invited to a school to “introduce” their musical; “and while you’re here could you teach them the songs”. I never minded that. But what always got to me were the teachers who thought the first run-through should produce a finished product. “We’ll just run through that again children.” And again. And again…

I used to teach a song line by line, put the lines altogether, and move on to the next song. They would basically know all the songs and words after a good night’s sleep when they came back to school in the morning!

6. Regarding leads and soloists. Turn single characters into a bunch of people. For example, instead of one wise sage have a chorus of ten. They can all wear long beards. Working as a group increases confidence.

I am older than time
Wiser than the wind
Colder than the winter snow.

If you’re writing for a group, write with a rhythm. It doesn’t have to be rap – in fact that could become monotonous. Short sentences recited rhythmically are a lot more decipherable for the audience than long complex sentences. Besides – a chorus of ten wise sages with long beards is much more fun than a single sage!

7. Nothing bores an audience more than being too long. In fact, the shorter the better. If it’s good they’ll want more; if it’s bad they’ll be relieved. Be short. Twenty to forty minutes is fine.

8. Stick them in a costume. Teens might be more comfy in their street gear, but younger kids like to dress up. Ten old bedsheets with holes cut into them will cover maybe fifty snowflakes. Kids are generally not experienced enough to play naturalistically, that is, to play themselves. They’re much better at acting at being something else. Dress them up and have them play dragons.

9. Accommodate to let teachers use the talents available – maybe (if you’re lucky) there’ll be one good singer amongst the students, or the school has a Taiwanese Club so have a Taiwanese dance, or rappers, or…

10. Remember as a playwright that you’re the dregs in the process. The teachers and performers will receive all the accolades. They’re so excited about what they’ve done. Your name will more often than not NOT appear on the programme. Sometimes, you might get some money – but usually not. Teachers are the biggest photocopying-breaking-copyright people in town. You are nothing in the process – although teachers will be very quick to point out improvements to your script and even condemn it outright. I had one teacher screw up the script and throw it at me as “Utter rubbish” and then use it as her own!

11. Workshopping from ideas. Again, cynically, but it’s generally true… Time and time again people will say, “I suppose you workshopped these ideas with the students and incorporated their ideas into the play”. And of course you’ll say, “Oh yes!” But the truth is that generally speaking they don’t have a great many ideas, and most of them are really boring. The aim is to let them think that they thought it up. So they think it’s their play, and you’re really grateful for all they’ve contributed. A great friend of mine – sadly deceased – was masterful at “workshopping”. She was so successful with her youth plays that when she died the city named their main theatre after her!

12. Music. Don’t presume that young people like one particular type of music and nothing else. I had a group of wonderful fourteen year old boys who were fabulous break-dancers. They were in a play about endangered species. I said “Come back with music you’d like to dance to.” They came back with extracts from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé! It’s the only time I’ve had a twenty minute standing ovation!

13. Themes. Don’t ram ideas down the audience’s throat. I know we should be Green, and not drink and drive, and wear a permanent condom, and all that – but the audience are there to be entertained not preached at. I find it the strangest question in literature class: what is the moral of this novel? Oh for goodness sake! I read the novel because of the story. So don’t preach; tell a rollicking yarn.

Well now, I’ve gone on for long enough. These are just haphazard general thoughts. Maybe, if this verbal diarrhoea is appreciated I’ll give some more pointers about things further down the track. In the meantime, all I’ve been trying to say is, when writing for children on stage, try not to be a pretentious arsehole or a boring old fart. The school play is simply a thing for kids to do for their parents.

1498. Hi Magdalen

Hi Magdalen
This’ll have to be a quick note because my wife’s due home any minute. I just want to say that little Julia is loving being in your class. She came home singing Little Bo Peep and Mary Had a Little Lamb. I also wanted to say that I’m pretty upset about the rumours of you having an affair with one of the parents. If my name gets out I won’t be at all happy. Hopefully we can carry on. Speaking of which – when’s the next parents’ interview evening?
Herb McCauley

Hi Magdalen
This’ll have to be a quick note because my wife’s due home any minute. I just want to say that little Archie is loving being in your class. He came home singing Little Bo Peep and Mary Had a Little Lamb. I also wanted to say that I’m pretty upset about the rumours of you having an affair with one of the parents. If my name gets out I won’t be at all happy. Hopefully we can carry on. Speaking of which – when’s the next parents’ interview evening?
Clive McCormick

Hi Magdalen
This’ll have to be a quick note because my wife’s due home any minute. I just want to say that little Francesca is loving being in your class. She came home singing Little Bo Peep and Mary Had a Little Lamb. I also wanted to say that I’m pretty upset about the rumours of you having an affair with one of the parents. If my name gets out I won’t be at all happy. Hopefully we can carry on. Speaking of which – when’s the next parents’ interview evening?
Jack Flanagan

Hi Magdalen
This’ll have to be a quick note because my wife’s due home any minute. I just want to say that little Bart is loving being in your class. He came home singing Little Bo Peep and Mary Had a Little Lamb. I also wanted to say that I’m pretty upset about the rumours of you having an affair with one of the parents. If my name gets out I won’t be at all happy. Hopefully we can carry on. Speaking of which – when’s the next parents’ interview evening?
Ivan Ainsworth

Dear Parents
I’m happy to announce that Clarissa Dobbs will be the replacement teacher while Magdalen
is on maternity leave.
Charles Allen
Principal