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21 Dec 2010

Mark Grist, Poet in Residence, Blog 3 - Dec 2010

Yesterday I had to face up to something. Something that I'd been trying to ignore for years.

I'm not cool.

Absolutely, positively not cool. This week has proved that beyond any doubt.

The revelation came on Wednesday. I was performing in a Peterborough Primary school and I was fired up. I'd rolled up in a shirt, jeans and leather jacket, and they thought I was exciting: they thought I was rock and roll. The kids sat with their mouths open during the performance and they'd produced some great work during the day. I was taking poetry back. I was connecting with the youth. I was cool as cool could be.

I was also sorely deluded.

When it came for questions at the end of the session, the hands went up.

'How old are you?' was the first one I got. I smiled and told them I was 29. Some eyebrows raised.

'Why didn't you iron your shirt?' was the next question. It came from a boy with a diamond earring almost as big as his ear. The class giggled and I realised for the first time that they weren't giggling with me. Uh oh. My cool was slipping. I batted the question back by saying that I spend too much time writing to iron things sometimes. Another hand shot up.

'Haven't you got a girlfriend to iron your shirts for you?'

Now this really wasn't going the way that I'd planned. I was sorely tempted to challenge the question: point out that it wasn't a girl's job to iron things, but the kids had me kind of stumped. For one thing, I probably would like (if not need) a girlfriend who can iron. I'm clearly not very good at it. Secondly, the boy had hit the nail on the head. I'm 29. I'm Single. I'm fairly unpresentable and I'm reading poems to children who seem to have their heads screwed more firmly on than me. Despite my leather jacket I was not The Fonze. I was hardly even Louis Walsh.

At least Louis can get an ironed shirt when he needs one.

As I packed up to a chorus of 'Goodbye Sir,' I wondered whether I was alone in still wanting to be cool. Do other men feel the same way? Is that why you get so many husbands and fathers flipping out in their 40s, buying a motorbike or tight leather trousers? Will that boy with the huge earring be dusting it off again in 30 years time, much to the embarrassment of his kids?

As I was sat outside waiting to see the head teacher a girl came through and sat next to me.

'My Daddy can't iron his shirt either,' she said. I nodded.

'Is he cool?' I asked. She thought for a long time, scrunched up her face and said 'sometimes.'

I think was the kindest, sweetest lie that I've heard in a long time.

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