Writer, photographer, "rapper" and general technophobe takes on the internet in what could be a very, very messy fight. But it's alright: she's harder than she looks, and she's wearing every single ring she could get her hands on.


Saturday, 23 October 2010

Fried Fish

If you`re interacting with children on a daily basis, the assumption is that every day you`ll become more like a child.

You don`t.

If anything, the inner child recedes: when confronted with the real thing, it simply can`t compete. Whether it`s the simple joy of jumping up and down for absolutely no reason at all, or the stomach clenching fun of looking at someone until they give up and look away again, or the never-ending fascination in Rock Scissors Paper when there`s nothing to win but honour and pride in the shape of your own hand, as an adult you just can`t convince yourself that you enjoy it now as much as you used to. It`s just not easy to air punch and scream with jubilation because your hand is flat and theirs is in a fist: not so simple to really feel the triumph. It`s more of a and there you go, don`t mess with me because I`ve been playing Rock Scissors Paper since your parents were embryos kind of satisfaction (accompanied with a raised and wise eyebrow, because none of them have worked out that Japanese girls always choose paper and Japanese boys always choose rock and so I always win).

Worse: understanding fades away completely. I didn`t understand children when I was a child, and now that I`m a fully grown adult I understand them even less. I`m 28, and I`ve done a lot of things in my life that could be regarded as cool: been to celebrity parties, worked in trendy London media (with sparkley loo seats), been on telly, been told by the (gay) TopShop Creative Director that I`m "totally cute", featured on the front of a fashion magazine, visited 18 countries, paraglided and whitewater rafted and rock climbed and hot-airballooned, and partied until 7am in some of the best cities in the world. But as far as the children I teach are concerned, there is nothing less trendy, less hip and less cool than Holly Smale. The teacher who doesn`t know any songs by Arashi, and who picks up pencil cases covered in celebrity photos and says "Ooh, and who is this lovely chap?" The teacher who has nothing fluffy or sparkley or funky in her hair at all, who wears pink Crocs all the time, has a jaunty, terrible Japanese accent, drives into fences and hands out Winnie The Pooh stickers to 11 year olds.

Which means that as young as I am in adult terms, I`ve become used to seeing myself through the eyes of children: of feeling decrepit and totally, totally past it. I`ve gotten used to entertaining them with my failure to be cool: to dancing like an embarrassing old Aunt at a disco, or singing the vocabulary they`re meant to be learning instead of saying it, or meowing like a cat, or taking my shoes off and wandering around the classroom in bare feet. I`ve gotten used to not really knowing what it is to be a child.

And I have finally, finally triumphed.

For the last week, a small, cheeky little boy has been calling me Muxing. She`s another foreign teacher in the area, she`s of Chinese descent, and I have absolutely no idea why he is calling me by her name because we are not similar in either looks or mannerisms. He shouts it down the corridors, he says it in the middle of class whenever there`s a moment of silence, he waits until I walk past and then yells it at me in repeat. He waits until he has the biggest group of students possible, and then he screams it at the top of his voice. And I have reacted just like an adult.

"I`m not Muxing."
"I`m not Muxing."
"I don`t understand; why are you calling me Muxing?"
"Stop calling me Muxing."
"Stop it."
"Stop it."

Finally, something clicked. The realisation that the only way I could get him to shut the hell up (Muxing, incidentally, replaced Fried Fish, which was his previous favourite shouting phrase) was to think the way a child thinks.

"Muxing!" he shouted.
"Oh, I understand!" I yelled back in Japanese. "You love Muxing, don`t you?"
"You love Muxing! You love her. You luuuuurrrvvve her. Mwamwamwa you want to kisssss her."
"No! I don`t love Muxing!"
"You do!"
"I don`t!"
"You do!!! You love her! You love her so much."
"Yes!" all his little 9 year old boy mates started shouting, laughing hysterically. "You love Muxing!"
"You must love her! You must!"
"No, I don`t love Muxing!" he yelled, stamping his feet in fury, and then scampered off.

I walked past him a few minutes later, and he said absolutely nothing. Not Fried Fish, and certainly not Muxing.

That`s the thing with children. It`s all very well and good keeping your distance and behaving like an adult, as long as you remember what it`s like to be a child.

And somewhere underneath all of it, I think I still do.