School’s out …

Saturday 21 March 2020

Schools close this week for the foreseeable future. I know that I shall really miss the teenagers I work with Monday to Friday. They bring joy, hope and optimism for the future and at the moment that is exactly what we all need…

Friday is a highly emotional day at work. We say a sad and sudden farewell to a stunned set of school leavers. It is so much earlier than planned for this set of young people, who find their rite of passage: their final weeks together, their examination season, their prom swept away by the corona virus tidal wave. The final assembly of 2020 is incredibly moving and incredibly tearful, as we all come to terms with the reality that these amazing pupils, we were expecting to work with for 3 more months, are leaving our school community today and not coming back. At least proceedings end on a humorous note. The Head of Year is presented with a pack of toilet rolls and some dried pasta. We laugh. We laugh together. We laugh out loud. And for a fleeting moment, in this whirlwind week, life feels almost normal again.

As I drive home however the panic, the sense of unease, the disbelief begin to take hold again. Confirmed cases of the virus in the UK have rocketed and pubs, cafes, theatres and concert halls are ordered to close from tomorrow. I switch off the car radio and complete my journey in grim silence.

Back at base, Small Boy has done just one day at home and the great buffoon has already managed to lose two basketballs ‘over the hedge’ and into our elderly neighbours’ garden. I send them a note of apology and my mobile number in case they need anything. In terms of supplies for us, I am hopeful that the family cupboards and bathroom will soon be fully stocked again for, after a long wait, tonight is the night that I have a supermarket delivery scheduled.

Just before 9pm, my groceries arrive. This was the only slot left one week ago when I booked it and my order includes … toilet rolls! It is salvation. I am excited. I am relieved. I am … soon in floods of tears as, not only toilet rolls are missing, roughly two thirds of my items are not included in the crates. The thought of another horrendous battle at the supermarket tomorrow looms and it is simply soul-destroying. Every morning I’ve been this week, pre-work (7:15am) and again every evening post-work (6:30pm) in a fruitless quest for bathroom essentials. At the end of a stressful, sleepless week, at the end of such a strange and sad day, it is just too much.

But it’s not only at work that I learn about life and kindness, determination and drive from young people. I have my own brigade of brilliant bambini at home too. My eldest makes me an emergency cuppa, takes the crumpled shopping list from my hands and tells me that she will sort it all out. And the next morning she does. It maybe Saturday, but at 7am I hear the front door close and the car engine start up. And by 8:30am she is back. She has queued and crusaded courageously around the crazed Tesco aisles. No toilet rolls, of course, and an eclectic mix of groceries but to me, blinking back tears, it looks like manna from heaven.

So, as an extraordinary week comes to an end and we stumble through the days as if in a bewildered dream, I feel proud and privileged to live and work with the teenage population. They light the gloom with hope …

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