An evening with Andy Burnham…

Thursday 14 October 2021

Going out on a school night? For the chance to hear Andy Burnham speak, I decide to give it a go!

It is almost a year to the day that Manchester’s Mayor was trending on Twitter as the ‘King of the North’. The nation watched on and the residents of the Northwest were gripped as he stood on the steps of the Town Hall in defiance of the Government’s tiering system and the decision to plunge our area into a set of restrictions without the funding to make these effective. Has this fight been vindicated? Some would say yes. The most recent update of the government’s performance during the pandemic, ‘Corona virus: lessons learned to date‘, drew this conclusion about the tiering system, not the words an administration committed, in name at least, to a ‘levelling up’ agenda, would have wanted us to read,

The two months between September 2020 and 31 October 2020 were an unsatisfactory period in which the comparative simplicity of the rules in place from the evening of 23 March onwards were replaced by a complex, inconsistent, shifting and scientifically ambiguous set of detailed restrictions. The rules had previously been a matter of broad national consent, but that sense of national solidarity began to erode, as the uncomfortable stand-off in Greater Manchester showed

Source: Corona virus: lessons learned to date (12 October 2021)

But even without this, for one may argue that, ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’, what our region does remember, as this year’s local council elections verify, is that someone had the passion and bravery to take such a stand on our behalf. We actually mattered to someone in politics. And it is really for this reason that, when I hear that Mr Burnham will be speaking at an event nearby, my friend and I, purchase tickets, and set out to lend our support.

I must admit that most of the event is just fun; (hot) buffet, bar with (too much) red wine for me, lots of interesting people to talk to and plenty of laughter and entertainment. Even amidst this social frivolity however, Andy Burnham’s speech is a great highlight. His ‘3 point plan’, for our region and our country, is clear, positive and purposeful and, just as I found one year ago, I feel my mind and soul waking up from the slump of months of dismal, dreary political news and thinking, ‘Yes, there is a better way! Yes there is some point in standing up for what you believe in! Yes there is still a place for values and principles 2020s Britain! Yes, you and your work do make a difference.’

Isn’t that what we all need, as we battle through each day? To know that we have a purpose and that we do matter. It is certainly true for me. So even if I do find the Friday 6am alarm call, with a mildly hungover head somewhat of challenge, I am happy to affirm that, on this occasion, it was definitely worth it …

My son gets a haircut …

Saturday 9 October 2021

This weekend, Small-boy is booked into an appointment at my hairdressers instead of being sent on his customary walk to the local barber.

Have you taken leave of my senses?” I hear you wonder.

As both girls have flown the family nest to university, have I turned my poor son into a daughter substitute who must accompany me on coiffure outings to sip cappuccino, eat Biscoff biscuits and talk hair products with the styling team? Actually; it is probably the complete opposite….

This has actually come about from me listening to my teenage child! Yes parents of small children, be cautioned; the lovely days of kitting your child out with economical biannual trips to Sports Direct or the ‘F &F‘ aisles at Tesco and, similarly, perching them on booster seats at the hairdressers for a cost effective over-short, made-to-last-a-few-weeks cut, do not last forever! No, alas, those cheery, chubby toddlers, with their grubby hands and paint spattered cheeks only go and grow up … and start to make their own choices about what they wear and how they look! I could call it the ‘Teenage years‘ but, as lots of you will know, it can happen even earlier than that for the more determined offspring.

In many ways, I think I had an easier ride than some, particularly with Small Boy, who definitely made it to High School before he really gave his clothing or hair a second thought. But now he is pretty clear and… yes the word is ‘unshakeable‘ … about having his own look and style. And this, at the moment, means ‘growing’ his hair. And so it was that a few weeks ago he, peered out from under his unruly locks and threw into the conversation,

Mum, now that my hair is getting quite long, do you think I should get it cut properly… at a hairdresser who knows about curly hair?”

I suggest that the barbers are probably also more than capable of branching out beyond a ‘two on the sides and longer on top’ brief, but he remains unconvinced and eventually I think, ‘Why the devil not?‘ plus, it would be nice, however we achieve it, to see his face again and call my salon to make enquiries and the appointment is made.

After an hour of washing, cutting and scrunching, he emerges, looking a little unsure, but after a quick trip home to ruffle it up a bit and ‘thumbs up’ approval from both sisters on WhatsApp, off into town he goes.

‘Does it make the start of a whole new hair-cutting era?’, I ponder. Who can tell! The Teenage years are one unexpected roller coaster of surprises with unexpected highs and lows at every turn. And so they must be, for they are about a child taking those confusing, daunting but also exciting steps to adulthood and independence. And, I hope, being able to talk about, listen and, where appropriate, hand over autonomy (and budgeting) on simple things, like haircuts and clothes makes it a little bit easier to be there for the more challenging and difficult conversations along the journey too.

Well that’s my hope …

Running with headphones…

Saturday 2 October 2021

Just in from my first ever run with headphones! Bloomin’ brilliant and … why have I never done this before?

Why indeed? For me, there are two reasons and the first is quite serious. It is about safety; women’s safety. Several years ago, I was talking running with one of my friends and she told me that she had ditched the ear buds after being mugged by a man who had attacked her from behind and she had not ‘heard him coming’. And sadly, particularly in the week when the news is dominated by the heartbreaking testimonials from the Sarah Everard trial and female fear becomes, again, the topic of much media debate, my friend is not alone. From the NBC articles in 2018, Scared to run alone? Women runners share their best safety tip, running without earphones, in certain situations, comes in at number two.

“One important thing I have changed in my running routine is that unless I am around a lot of people or running on the boardwalk during the day, I no longer put headphones on,”

Christie Maruka, a fitness enthusiast who runs/speed walks daily

The second, I can only put down to the frantic nature and financial strains of single parenthood. For years, I simply could not afford a phone that had an earphone port! As for one that could play music or understood what a podcast was; well that was an even longer wait. My kids had them, as cherished birthday or Christmas present but for their poor old mum (let those violins play now!) there was no-one in my life who combined caring enough and earning enough to bestow such a gift upon me. But about 3 years ago, as technology advanced and prices fell, I did finally treat myself to a device that coped with more than just ‘calling and texting’ and could in fact take pictures and play sounds.

But that was several years ago; why the delay until today to finally attach a pair headphones? It’s time. Time for me to stop and learn how. If you are a single parent your entire life, it often feels, has no space for you. Frequently, you inhabit domains where you are the only adult and, hence, the first port of call for solving problems for everyone else. Amidst helping with homework, revision plans, clubs, friends, exam stress, health, future study decisions, driving lessons …. and so on you simply drain of the motivation to stand still and explore ways to make your own life a little bit easier or nicer.

So what changed this morning? Work panic … that’s what! Our new boss has introduced the team to weekly readings from book on leadership psychology. Last weekend, I left my copy at work and had to make my excuses at the Monday meeting and, as I wake up this morning it hits me that I have done exactly the same thing again! Yikes! What to do? My Kindle is dead and the only charger is now in Edinburgh with Prom-dress daughter. So I type ‘audio book’ into Google and 30 minutes later I: am enrolled on a 30 day free trial with Audible; have scrabbled around the house to find an only slightly damaged pair of headphones; have laced up my trainers and am ready to go. Necessity… very clearly the ‘mother of invention’ on this October morning!

And what of the safety worries? Well it is 9:30am and I do only run on busy roads, so I decide that it is the perfect situation to try and chip away at some of the limiting fears that can impede my life as a woman. In fact, my logical mind interrupts, road safety is likely to be a bigger peril to avoid today. I say my logical mind but it would be more honest to admit that I did recently read Paula Radcliffe explaining that,

“I actually don’t listen to music outside when I run. I prefer to be aware of what’s going on and in tune with my surroundings. Keeping an eye out for bikes or dogs coming out of nowhere, I like to be aware of that!”

Paula Radcliffe 2019

Whatever the reason, I set the volume to sensible level that still lets the background noise in, and set off.

And I love it. Both the run and the ‘reading’ fly by like never before. I definitely on the road to conversion, already wondering ‘what next?’ ; when I finish this book. Mmmm, maybe music …

Sometimes you deserve a treat …

Saturday 25 September 2021

I did set out to have a dry month but, as I finish another demanding week of September 2021, I am dreaming of a G &T, a Sicilian lemon flavoured shot of deliciousness … and I decided to indulge and feel not a second or remorse. No, I think I deserve it! And here is why:

1) I survive teaching GCSE Spanish (in addition to my usual mathematics)

A deluge of PCR test appointments causes the teacher absence rate to rises rapidly and the dreaded “rarely cover” re-appears on timetables. And so it is that I find myself directed, for a double lesson of Year 10 Spanish last thing on a Friday afternoon.

I have never learned Spanish, however, back in 2018 when I helped my Eldest revise for her GCSE Spanish speaking test, she put me through such a relentless schedule of practice that by the end, not only was she ready to shine but I reckon that I could also have scraped a respectable grade 3! So, I get off to a confident start in the classroom,

Wow miss, you actually sound as if you are Spanish!”

one pupils observes, as a I navigate the opening activity. Alas, as we get deeper into our translation activity, my limitations become only too apparent. When I try to help one puzzled pupil by suggesting that “Enrique’s favourite activity is taking photos of a sacred family?” a very lovely, and linguistically able girl, calls me over and whispers “Miss, it’s The Sagrada Familia, a very famous church in Barcelona.” She then gives me a little shrug, as if to say, ‘Should we tell the rest of the class?’

Of course we should! I call the group together. We view pictures of Gaudi’s basilica on the white board. I throw in the tale of my friend and I being mugged in Las Ramblas, on a trip to Barcelona in the late 80s and, as several hands shoot up, the classroom is a buzz of other holiday and passport disasters.

As we eventually return to work, it is agreed that, if self-help strategies fail, (familiar vocab; cognates, dictionary, working partner) and we need to ‘ask an expert’ that the expert is clearly not me, but rather several nominated pupils dotted about the room.

2) I converse civilly with the local anti-vaxers

As covid vaccination is now rolled out nationally to the under 16’s, this protest group, with noise, banners and pamphlets, migrate to the locality of English high schools. Our Head handles it really well.

After conferring with local school leaders and hearing the cautionary tale of Headteacher who sent the Senior Leadership Team out en masse, whereupon they became embroiled in the confusion and, in the local media coverage, were presented as being part of the protest, we are far more low key. We are dispatched individually to politely greet any anti-vaxers we encounter, recognising their right to opinion and protest but gently reminding them not to put leaflets into pupils’ bags without their consent, nor to attempt to stop pupils who just want to get into the school building without talking to them. So far, so good… but I think this addition to our work duties may well last beyond the end of this calendar month!

3) I complete my ’60 running miles in September’

Gosh; so much harder than my January, ‘run at least a mile a day‘ quest. To keep up to date, I aim for 2 miles per day but, I discover that this means finding close to 20 minutes of daily ‘me-time’ and in September 2021, this has been a tough ask. So I push myself to finish early, with some longer weekend jogs, and feel overjoyed as the Strava clock tells me I’ve made it. I am full of relief to be free of the relentless demands of finding the time and route for a suitable 2 miler … as is my very sore right ankle. On the upside; I do feel good and pretty proud, plus all my pre-covid work clothes now fit me again. Who knows; by next week, where a staff social has made its way onto the calendar, I think there may be a fighting a chance that I’ll be able to fasten up my little black party dress too!

4) We make 4 journeys to the vets

Poor Boris has really struggled in September 2021 and is still not cured. We have now: clocked up over 80 miles of driving to and from the exotic pet specialists; spent over 10 hours, stuck in rush hour traffic, waiting in car parks or consulting with vets; administered many eye drops and other medicine and endured many many days feeling anxious and worried as he continues to look troubled and out of sorts.

5) I have missed first 1 and now 2 uni-girls for 23 days and only told them so once … or maybe twice

Yes, probably the biggest challenge of the whole month has been adjusting to life with two of the squad living in other cities….and that is a mission I’m definitely a long way from fully accomplishing but at least I’ve mostly managed to sound bright and breezy on our calls.

So all in all…I think I deserve a little tipple and in fact it is amazing that I made it this far without a small reward. But let’s not stop with me. Look back at your September, I’ll bet you’ll find plenty of reasons to treat yourself too!!

And then there were two…

Sunday 19 September 2021

There is another empty room now at our house, as Prom Dress Daughter heads to University in Edinburgh.

We actually drove her there a week ago and it was quite a drive. My Eldest hopped in at Newcastle to lend sisterly support. We all stayed over at a hotel in the Scottish capital. And, after helping to unpack, do a food shop, try to fathom the wifi, and hug out an emotional goodbye, we delivered my first born back to the North East, navigated around the Great North Run and my son and I finally pulled back onto the drive at 7pm; a full 34 hours after leaving.

So, I hear you wonder,

How does it feel?’ 

How does it feel to be just two… or three if you count our gecko? How does it feel to look at half emptied wardrobes and shelves with missing ornaments? How does it feel to wonder how our girl is coping: in a new flat, in a new city, in a whole new learning environment? Well I have to confess that for the first few days we are too exhausted and drained to feel anything. The new week cruelly dawns, after very little sleep or rest, and is a punishing game of catch-up: supermarket sweeps, frantic washing and ironing, and late night work prep. Then comes fraught back-to-back vets trips, as poor Boris continues to struggle and my days last from 6am to 8pm, before we can even think about food or … sitting down.

But eventually the weekend arrives. Saturday is a back breaking assault upon a house that looks as if a bomb has hit it. And Sunday … well Sunday is the day when I briefly allow everything to hit me. I am shuffling despondently around the supermarket with only half my trolley full, thinking ‘What on earth do I even buy?‘ and ‘How do you shop for only two?’ when a wave of sadness hits me and the tears begin to fall. I am tired, I am stressed and…I miss my girls, I miss the old certainties of family life

What a forlorn site I must look. Other shoppers avoid eye contact and push their trolleys past, with grim tunnel vision and all the speed those wobbly wheels will muster. Do I feel isolated? Unimportant? Uncared for? Possibly; it is certainly a moment when I wish I had a partner to turn to; someone to understand, to hear me, to pour a glass of wine. But I don’t. I am a single parent and I need to get it together. I have the magnificent Small Boy in the house, who doesn’t need a miserable mum moping about the place, rather deserves me to listen and prioritise his worries, concerns and plans for the weeks ahead. I take a deep breath, wipe my face on my sleeve, pull my mask a little higher and head to the checkout

Back home, however,it is that same Small Boy who comes bundling out of the front door, brushing aside my request for ‘help with the shopping‘ and instead waving a phone under my nose. I quickly see why… it’s a WhatApp group call with two very familiar faces beaming from the screen.

“Hi Mum – how are you?

Isolated? Unimportant? Uncared for…. maybe not after all; maybe just needing time to adapt to change? I just think it will take me quite a while to get used to my new normal ….

The poorly pet …

Sunday 5 September 2021

It’s the start of the August Bank Holiday weekend, when an early tap at my bedroom door heralds the arrival of a worried Small Boy,

Mum, something is wrong with Boris…

Boris is Small Boy’s 18 month old leopard gecko. And this morning, he has a cloudy eye, which is, Google informs us, both a common problem for shedding reptiles and one that requires immediate attention. Even if it didn’t, I can tell that Small Boy is already agitated and so I leap out of bed to put a plan into action. Unfortunately for us …it is a Sunday!

Our vet does open on this non-standard working day … but only for one hour. We hit the phones promptly at 10, and over the next 60 minutes, call and leave message after message but, alas, fail to get through. At 11:01 am, we get the ‘surgery closed’ message but are provided with an ‘out of hours’ number. We call this but are told that it is ‘not available’ and are sent instead to the city wide emergency pet number. Third time lucky? Happily it is, and we find ourselves speaking to a helpful receptionist who recommends a video call which we book for that afternoon.

I stop to take stock of the day. It is now 11:30 am and, so far, all I have done is try to make phone calls and now am essentially going nowhere until I’ve zoomed with a gecko-vet at 2!  The rest of the house begin to emerge into the day,

What time are we heading into town mum?“,  smiles my eldest as she heads sleepily for the shower

Ooh … now that we are all back together, shall we go out for my ‘exam results’ meal?” call Prom-dress daughter from her room

I’m also wondering where I fit a few work tasks in, what to do about some rapidly escalating Monday lunch plans and when on earth we are going to find some new school shoes for Small Boy’s size 12 feet in time for the start of the new term on Thursday.

One day back from my week away and I feel frazzled with demands, restrictions and everyone else’s priorities. I reach for my trusty run shoes because I need to clear my head.

Back in half an hour!

I shout over my shoulder as I head for the door, knowing that a trio of open mouths will be watching my departure.

My run; my salvation. The steady steps, the fresh air, the space…the quiet are all just the tonic for a brain that needs to think and re-plan. At the centre of it all; Small Boy and Boris. Now I am not an animal person but I understand why my son is. He may be messy, he may be clumsy, he may be hopeless with money but putting all of these minor defects into the shade is his big heart. He is one of the nicest people I know and his care and kindness envelop his family, his friends… and his little gecko. He was designed for a pet and in that moment, amidst all of the other clutter in our weekend, getting Boris the attention my son wants him to have becomes my main mission. I sit on a bench about a mile from home and send a text to pull out of the Monday lunch plans. Then, in my mind, Sunday moves to Monday, any shopping moves online  and … problem solved. What a relief ! Ifeel that our weekend has finally got its priorities in order.

Back home, I announce that we shall be spending Monday ‘in town’ and ‘celebrating exam results’ and feel myself easing back in charge. Though it proves to be far from simple!

Small Boy and I attend our video call, whereupon the vet advises that Boris is seen immediately and dispatches us to the emergency vet hospital, warning of a 3 or 4 hour wait.

“Mum, it says they charge £172.75 for a consultation!”  gulps a shocked Small Boy, as we speed along the road

Don’t you worry, ” I trill, hoping my rather shaky falsetto sounds more convincing than I feel. “At times like this, we just forget the cost and stick it on the credit card!”

But we never get as far as a payment…

We sit, like a couple of stake-out cops, in the crowded car park with snack, kindles, and Boris scrabbling about in his tupperware travel-home with holes in the lid. After 90 minutes, a nurse appears … with a lead! She does a visible double take as we offer our small box and scurries off with Boris, looking very pensive. Five minutes later she is back, apologetically explaining that there is no ‘exotic pet’ specialist available and we head home, unseen and still unsure; me rather forlorn and my son pretty angry.

Next morning we try our vet again, but it is Bank Holiday Monday and no-one picks up; so we email instead, attaching photos. On Tuesday, with nothing in the email inbox, we phone once more and do finally get through and fix an appointment. We now just have to career through Manchester’s roadworks and diversions to reach our elusive goal… our little lizard, at long, long last, is examined by an expert and my son looks as if the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders … phew!

And now Boris has eye drops twice daily and we hope he improves soon, otherwise we are back again and things will be serious for the little guy. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it and … hey at least he has Small Boy and I am not sure a gecko could ask for a better owner!

So one little pet certainly took up a lot of time and a fair bit of money! But it was definitely worth every second and dime because, remembering that the people (and animals) in our lives more important that much of the other stuff we complicate our days with is a pretty fantastic thing. Sometimes, the very weeks that don’t quite go to plan are the ones that help you to see what really matters ….

Holidaying …without kids…

Saturday 28 August 2021

On the heartwarming ‘Raising Boys’ blog, there is one article, ‘7 Rules for taking a Toddler on Holiday‘ that takes me on a poignant trip down memory lane and inspires this week’s post. For this year, I find myself emerging on the other side of this parental vacation voyage. In August 2021, I leave my kids at home and go holidaying with my friends again!

Yes, my friends and I have shared many holiday permutations over the years. In our student days, lots of adventurous travel. Booking a flight, packing a rucksack, a tube of travel wash and the iconic ‘Rough Guide to…. wherever‘ and simply setting off for a few weeks … occasionally months. Then marriage and settling down, lit up by the sociable toddler years, when our cheery, chubby offspring were only too happy to team up with any children in sight and so came with us on trips to see our pals. Built sandcastles together, shared tents together, giggled, laughed and probably cried on ‘long’ parent-led walks together. Alas, this harmony was soon to hit the challenge of the teenage era! Definitely a more barren time in terms of keeping in touch. Awkward adolescents are fare less keen, we discovered, to immediately bond and socialise with each other, simply because they are around the same age and, back in the 1980s, their parents became buddies at University! So our holiday meet-ups, regrettably, dwindled away … until this year.

With Small Boy joyfully driven to Wales to enjoy a seaside holiday with my Mum and his ‘caravan friends’, my girls more than keen to have the house to themselves for a week, I am free to head to the beautiful Northumberland Coast to join a house that ‘sleeps six’ with a group of university friends. And there is not an single child in sight!

And it is wonderful! Seven days of adult company and a full 180 degrees different from my usual life. A large G & T greets me upon arrival on arrival. We enjoy leisurely meals out and fantastic food in with wine, chat, laughter and no-one rushing to finish and get back to the x-box. Countryside and coastal walks are planned with pub or cafe stops … and without needing to resort to threats or bribery. The very civilised ‘Great Estuary Debate‘ aside, (to chance a wade across at low tide or play safe with a longer roadside route?’ … that was the question) there are also no arguments, no sulks, no squabbles. On the beach, some do swim and board, someone even brings a bucket and spade… but not me. After years of having to occupy, entertain and cart equipment for 3 children to the sand and sea … I just bring snacks, drinks and my kindle.

Of course, there are still some decisions to be made… just not ones you’d usually hear on a teen family vacation,

I thought Yemeny pilaf for dinner tonight, or possibly salmon‘ calls one of my friends from the kitchen ” Any preference?”

Oooh – tough choices!

And we don’t forget about our children completely. We share parenting tales, we swap proud pictures and we call them most days. But predominantly, I find, I have a precious and refreshing week for me; afternoon and evening drinks, lazy morning lie-ins with a good book interchanged with occasional runs, convivial jigsaws but competitive board games, fresh air, stunning scenery, much tea, many biscuits, fun and friendship.

Do the kids miss us? Today I drive home and arrive at a house where the curtains are closed, the shed is full of uncollected Amazon parcels and there not a scrap of food to be found in fridge or cupboard. But those who are in welcome me back with hugs and smiles, so even if they haven’t missed me, even if they have had a lovely break from my ‘mum – nagging’, I think they are pretty pleased to have me back. My Eldest sends a text explaining that she is ‘out’ until later and Small Boy reminds me that he is heading to a gig in the local park at six. I resign myself to tea without milk, an afternoon of washing and conclude that whilst we have all had welcome change of pace and routine, that life will be ‘back to normal’ before I’ve even unpacked my bags.

Or maybe not; I fire up my laptop, start to type and escape back to holiday mode for an extra indulgent hour or two…

Making the call…

Saturday 21 August 2021

The TV coverage from Afghanistan this week redefines the concept of ‘heartbreaking’ news, as the Taliban sweep back into power, following the decision, catalysed by US President Joe Biden, to withdraw troops from this volatile area of Central Asia. The chaos, the desperation, the scale of human tragedy play out on our screens so tangibly that I, for one, struggle to even compute how to start thinking about it all. The Foreign Office staff in Kabul, sound resolute, if strained and verging upon panic, about their mission in what seem to be the most impossible of situations and I am left in awe of their strength and leadership. But then comes the story we can all relate to, and it knocks away all my hope and trust in humanity in one devastating blow; Dominic Raab … and the phone call…

As reported widely in the national media, Raab our Foreign Secretary, holidaying in Crete as the Afghan capital falls, is advised to make a call, to expedite safe passage for the local interpreters, who have worked with the British Army over the last 2 decades. But this call is not made. And there is it. A simple narrative but one that defies belief and lands like the cruellest of stun grenades in our living room as we gather to hear the latest news bulletin. Initially there is the shock that, at the height of a such a tense and dangerous crisis for many British citizens and vulnerable collaborators, the head of the Foreign Office is actually still on holiday at all, as opposed to being back at his desk at the centre of strategic decision making and emergency talks. Then come the waves of utter disgust and anger that whilst the highest standards of public leadership were clearly beyond him, so were the very least, the most minimal; a simple phone call for heaven sake!And not just any call. Not a diplomatic nicety. Not a general update. No; this call was about saving lives.

Doesn’t everyone deserve a holiday?‘ some of his supporters have argued, and Raab himself has commented that after a ‘gruelling two years‘, he deserved the break. And no-one would deny him this. Indeed it is undoubtedly true that the rapid recent rise in remote working and technological advances much before this, that have often caused society to reflect upon the impact of blurring the lines between work and home and with this, work time and holiday time. In 2015, the charity Mind, in their article ‘A quarter of staff have been pestered by their boss while on holiday‘, reported worrying concerns about the proportions of people contacted by bosses during ‘vacations’ and out of working hours. But even they, in tune with all legal advice on this issue, accept that there are times when it is both reasonable and necessary for an employee to be called. Further that this likelihood will increase with seniority. And there can be few amongst us who would not see the catastrophe developing in Afghanistan and the urgency to protect human life as a totally legitimate reason to summon any of us, let alone the privileged and powerful Foreign Secretary, from a sun-lounger on the beach.

Mr Raab has also said that ‘in retrospect‘, he wouldn’t have gone on holiday if he knew the ‘scale of the Taliban takeover‘, and has claimed that “Everyone was caught off-guard by the pace …of the Taliban takeover.” Equally many, in rushing to his defence, have claimed that the phone call would not have made any difference. But, for me, all of this skirts the issue. He chose not to interrupt his vacation to make the call. I said it was a simple narrative and I have a simple point to make. Human lives were at stake and this man did not care enough to try and save them. What sort of person makes that decision? What sort of person do we have sitting one of the highest, most privileged roles in the cabinet? I feel as if the shutters have well and truly been lifted from my eyes and I am terrified of what I see. No care, no compassion, not a shred of human decency from the centre of our national government. Can this really be true? If so, for the British nation these are sad, dark and worrying times indeed ….

The IKEA uni shop…

Friday 13 August 2021

As I went into labour with my second child, 18 years ago, I do recall thinking.

Arghhh …. now I remember how much this hurts! Where’s my epidural?

And this week, as Prom-dress daughter gleefully drags me off to the aisles of IKEA for her ‘Uni shop’, I get a similar flashback to … can I say the pain… of my visit here last year, when my Eldest child also stocked up on her accommodation essentials.

Well, if not pain, it’s certainly a financial shock to the system! If we rewind the clocks back to 1980s, when I headed off to Higher Education, I pretty much took a few spare mugs and pans from my mum’s kitchen and the quilt from my bed. Not the case anymore … at least not in our house! It’s colour co-ordinated crockery, plastic plants, gin glasses, storage boxes and … and on and on it goes. One hour in and our trolley is stacked high, dangerously swaying and cheekily chinking and tinkling as we totter through the delights of the IKEA ‘Market Place’. None of it is particularly expensive but, as my mental calculator goes into over drive, it all adds up, and I find myself fighting the urge to grab one of the giant gin globes and pour myself a stiff drink!

I also have an emotional jolt, exactly as I did one year ago. As we are rummaging through the racks of bath mats and towels, my daughter’s face animated and happy, it suddenly hits me. Her excitement and haul of goods are not about her bedroom at my house. No, these are the trappings for a new room and a new life far, far away. Momentarily, my heart drops into my shoes and I have to fix a grin determinedly on my face and use every ounce of effort to stop myself shouting out,

I don’t want you to go…”

Because in that second I really don’t. What I want is for time just to pause for a while. I want a few more weeks of my trusty trio all back home, watching trash TV, laughing at in-jokes, sharing nonsense into the WhatsApp group. But, I am proud to report that, in trusty mum style, I pull myself together, for of course, it is not what any of us reallydesire. It is simply that change is difficult and sometimes painful.

Maybe too, I am also over exhausted with all this shopping! Yes, there are further things that are aching … my head, which is completely zonked and my feet which are screaming “Heels, today! Really?” To revive our tired legs and frazzled brains, we stop for coffee and review our progress. Prom-dress daughter works briskly through her pre-prepared list and cheerfully informs me that,

It will probably take another shop to tick off all the ‘essentials’

Well one the bright side, that is not for today. We hit the motorway and collapse at home with a chippy tea and some very large gins in the new glasses. Alcohol… possibly the epidural to get me through the next few weeks …

Exam Results 2021 …let’s make it about the pupils

Monday 9 August 2021

It’s the eve of A level Results day in England, with GCSEs following, hot on their heels. Always a tense time for so many pupils and parents but: throw in 18 months of  covid-chaos in our educational establishments; toss in the word ‘ teacher assessed grades’ and stir it all up with accusations of ‘grade inflation’ and speculation of a landslide of appeals and our scandal-seeking national media look set for a bumper week of headlines.

Is it unfair to suggest that the press and politicians and ‘joe-public know-alls’ sometimes forget that pupils lie at the heart of this…

Our house is on edge, anxiously awaiting A level results for Prom-dress daughter. Like many pupils in her position, this set of grades represent hard work and talent but even more importantly a whole ton of resilience and grit. Yes, it is remarkable that so many of these pupils kept going. Kept going through: home-learning, blended learning, lockdown, unlocking, mass testing, endless isolation orders  and … to cap it all an anxious assessment marathon, hastily cobbled together at the eleventh hour by an incompetent Department of Education. Let’s spare them headlines that make ill-informed shots at the validity of their grades; they deserve every success and every bit of praise their schools and families can lavish upon them. For those who don’t receive exactly the scores they hoped for … I think we know that they have learned how to pick themselves up, learned how to adapt…. I think they need to be reassured that they  will be okay.

For whilst my daughter and others collecting results are typical of most examination age pupils, there is another group whose story is even less likely to be told.  As we dispatched out Teacher Assessed Grades in June there were a small number of young people receiving no grades at all. And we are not alone. In July 2021, the TES in their article ‘Most teachers had GCSE evidence gaps‘ found that over 70% of teachers had pupils for whom they could not evidence a grade.

The article explores many reasons for this saddest of situations; mental health, bereavement, school refusal, the causes are numerous. There is an even more serious issue too, some of our pupils are actually lost. Lost to education and … missing. Quoted in a Times article, Anne Longfield, former children’s commissioner reported that,

” …the state had lost track of tens of thousands of pupils who had gone “off grid” during the pandemic…” 

Her fears for these vulnerable young people centre upon the threats from criminal gangs and the dark cloud of county lines that casts an ever present shadow over our school communities.

Is there a place for this cohort of pupils on results day? I’d like to think that there was … because I really believe in educational care. I’d like to say ‘come back to us‘ even if you haven’t gained a single grade. We have time for you too today. We’ll find you a path. We’ll help you take that first step. We are … still here. Because 18 months of a global pandemic has re-emphasised one thing so clearly to those of us privileged to work in our high schools and colleges, pupils are not just a set of exam statistics, and a list of grades, they are complete and unique young people. And they flourish with our amazing knowledge but also our care and encouragement that helps each one to see how much they matter and what the best version of themselves might be.

So please…  let’s make this week’s results days about the pupils… about all the pupils….