Spinning with a bucket

Empathy is the most wonderful condition. To wholly situate yourself in another’s mind (and know yourself to be there) is proof of an external reality.

I was wondering how best to teach ‘the flashback’ when suddenly [does fluttering, rainy fingers and whistles spooky, but frail tune]…

It is 1985 and I am 12. I am sat, cross-legged on the carpet in the extension. Dad is out in the garden, doing something to do with tomatoes. Mum has yet to return from the battery farm.  My brother is watching Police Squad on the telly.

I’m doing my homework at the low, wide coffee-table.  The table has a glass top, so my copies of Asterix (underneath) are distracting me from my science homework. My brow is furrowing, my mouth twisting and pursing itself into the corner of my face.

Dad comes in from the garden, wiping his feet, then plonking himself with a satisfied huff on the sofa behind me. He looks over my shoulder at my science homework, his tongue clucking behind his teeth.  ‘Ah.’ he says. ‘Watch this.’ And he walks back out into the garden.

My brother and I look out through the French window. Dad is spinning around in the centre of the lawn, holding a bucket tightly with knuckles white. My brother and I exchange glances.

A few seconds later, Dad plonks himself back on the sofa.

‘Centrifugal force.’ he says.

I pack up my homework and pick up one of the Asterix books.

[back come the fluttery fingers and the spooky whistling…]

It’s a dry October evening in 2015 and I’m pouring through children’s novels trying to find compelling examples of flashbacks. Yes, I’ve got Dumbledore’s penseive and Tom Riddle’s diary, but somehow feel there’s got to be something more to the flashback than narrative sleight of hand.

[the fluttery fingers and off-key music reimpose themselves as I drift back to…]

The exam hall, 1990, GCSE double award science. The smell is of damp wood and the vodka I’d swiped from the cabinet to steady my nerves.

I stare down at the exam paper: the numbers, text and the diagrams.  An Asterix book is rising into my conscious mind.  What use is that to me now?  The Asterix book comes into crisp focus.

‘Bloody hell!’ I think. ‘There must’ve been water in that bucket!’

And I start writing on the exam paper.

[fluttery fingers dance into silhouette; the tinny twang of music swells and then it recedes.]

My arms are stretched out before me. My back is taut as I strain against the weight I have created.

But I am spinning and smiling at the passing blur of my two, beautiful sons.


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