Okha and I are on a road trip, the pretext for which is a college open day. The upshot of her deranged hippy childhood where TV was limited exclusively to nature programs is that she has developed a comprehensive knowledge of animal kind. The drawback is that her interests are now are pretty niche. It takes us approximately three and a half hours in the car and 20 minutes on the campus to discover that this establishment not only smells overwhelmingly of horse poo but is also populated entirely by white girls in jodhpurs: not a splash of ethnicity nor any kind of tentative misfit in sight.
My daughter, who has gone conservative for the day with pastel hair, Doc Martens and (by her standards) a conservative dress, sticks out like a sore thumb. We cast furtive glances at each other, neither one wanting to appear hasty until, unable to bear it any longer I grab her firmly by the hand and we run screaming to the car. Get us back to our noisy, dirty, over populated, kaleidoscopic city and away from England’s green and pleasant land.
We’re both a little ashamed of our knee jerk desertion. We should know better than anyone that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but there is a limit to tolerance and how much dung one can reasonably be expected to tolerate in the name of a tertiary education. I wonder if art school might not be a better fit? Probably a fair amount of scat in those places too though, albeit creatively situated and resonant with symbolism.
There are few settings better disposed to DMCs than the car. Sitting side by side and staring straight ahead we re-find each other after some difficult months. She’ll always be my little girl, but she is resolutely her own woman now too, and that is the way it should be.
After all boyfriend conversation has been exhausted we move on to the thorny issue of what to do with me in my dotage. Alzheimer’s is all but a foregone conclusion: I am already frequently to be found searching for the car keys in the fridge.
As far as Okha is concerned so long as I develop the kind of dementia where I merely forget that she is married and repeatedly break out champagne to celebrate the good “news”, we may be able to work something out, but if I go down the poo smearing route, it’s off to Dignitas with me – no ifs or buts. Fair enough. I am a reasonable mother but I’m not prepared to put in the kind of devotion and self denial that would earn a future carte blanche for anything experimental involving excrement.
Speaking of which, writing for the Daily Mail is an unlikely aspiration for… well anyone really, but nonetheless this has been my overriding ambition for 2017 because where the DM leads the politicians follow. Extraordinary and sad, but true.
With days to go my dubious dream is realised with a double page spread entitled “Husbands behind bars at Christmas”. I purchase my hard copy incognito from an unfamiliar newsagent, sandwiching it furtively inside a Guardian like the guilty porn it is. Unfortunately they have picked the “wistful” photograph where I look as if I have gas. Payback I suppose. I feel suddenly vulnerable and exposed.
It is not long before worried messages are illuminating my phone like a string of neurotic Christmas lights on flicker. “Am I okay? Have I read the comments?” I haven’t, don’t and won’t. I have it on good authority that Daily Hate commentary is almost entirely penned by middle aged men in soiled tracksuits who live with their mothers and eat a lot of biscuits, adopting noms de plume like Suzy or Amanda, so I’m not even mildly curious about the grubby content of the tiny troll mind. I am however interested in raising the profile of prison families and the damage done to children by the often unnecessary abduction of a parent. After the sticks and stones of the prison experience, words will never hurt me.
Persuading the gen pop that prison is broken ought to be easy: the facts and figures are unassailable, but as a nation we are increasingly bored by the humble fact – a dry, sterile little nugget of inconvenience. Okay then, to hell with facts: we need stories! As the actor Alan Rickman said: “The more we are governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from and what might be possible”. So I will tell our story for whatever it is worth.
Rebranding prison is a PR task of epic proportions that will take a lot more than me looking pained in a dress, (no trousers or jeans allowed on females gracing the pages of The Mail… yes, honestly!) but just having a voice is a baby step in the right direction and so I’ll take any crap anyone wants to throw at me.
Back on good old Unit 12 M looks as if someone has thrown a turd at his head. Olfactory investigation unearths the unlikely revelation that he is in fact sporting a coffee head mask: instant coffee made into a foaming paste with two tablespoons of hot water, rubbed generously into the scalp and left to set. It appears that M has made the rookie mistake of revealing his fear of balding to A, the wing’s unofficial chief prankster who has suggested this procedure. To be fair caffeine does have an array of health benefits but a topical spoonful of instant is unlikely to succeed at rebooting defunct hair follicles.
To the delight of everyone (this is the slammer and Unit 12 is a drug free wing which can make Friday night a bit slow) M is waxing lyrical about “the tingling”, convinced the concoction works. You can clock up the years doing time but wisdom doesn’t always come with age. Some people are born smart but most of us have to learn the hard way: slowly and painfully. If the worst that happens is an unfortunate brown stain on your head as you pass through the intestines of life then great, but sometimes things get messy. We can pretend they won’t or don’t or shouldn’t, but history would be against us there.
Life is poorly controlled chaos if you live it. Perhaps we should all stay at home with our mothers spewing virtual outrage into the ether, crazy with the bitterness of unblemished, unhappy lives? But if we decide to sink or swim in the real world some of us will come unstuck and fall down the crapper. We’ll find ourselves floating around in the bog water then, staring up at the arse end of society and wondering how it came to this, hoping that someone will get their hands dirty and fish us out before we hit the sewer.
We might look like shit, but perhaps that is because we are drowning.