Happy Mother’s Day 2022

Sunday 27 March 2022

What a lovely mother’s day weekend!

The British Isles bask in a full week of sunny weather and by glorious chance this coincides with me setting out on a weekend jaunt. I cannot believe my luck!

Saturday takes me to Hawes (I’ll skip the bit about me going via Leeds in a hapless satnav blunder) and a wonderful 10 mile trek along the Pennine Way. Oh it feels good to be out of my corner of the Northwest. Why I was becoming so dangerously domesticated I’d even bought strawberry plants for the garden! Amidst those rolling hills and mile upon mile of solitude, the grind of the week, the workload worries and the night-time niggles just melt away. Several medical studies affirm that walking is a proven mood booster and that Walking in nature, specifically, has been found to reduce ruminating over negative experiences. Well, it certainly works for me! And, as we hike back down to ground level, shop until we drop at the Wensleydale Creamery and then join the other weekend revellers enjoying beers in the afternoon sunshine, I almost feel as if I’m actually on holiday!

Alas, I am not and, on Monday will indeed return to work, but the the treats of the weekend are not over just yet. On Sunday I continue my drive North to pick up my Eldest from Uni-land for the start of her Easter vacation. Yeah – the perfect Mother’s day gift!

With much laughter and a surfeit of coffee and diet coke, we head home. After the two and a hour car journey, I actually hobble into the house, as the hiking has left me with a tricky combination of aching butt cheeks and very tight calf muscles! However, as my glutes and gastrocnemii loosen back into action, I find that flowers have arrived from Prom-dress daughter, my Eldest is ready to cook a Sunday Roast for me and my mum and even a rather jaded (from a Saturday night sleep-over) Small boy manages a card! Life feels good!

It is evening now and time to look to the week ahead. But with one last backward glance at the weekend, I am super glad that we made the most of the fine weather as the forecasters now warn of plummeting temperatures and even snow! Yikes; I do hope those strawberry plans will be ok…

Farewell little gecko…

Monday 21 March 2022

Sad times for us this week as Boris the gecko passes away very suddenly…

Our first reaction? Shock. It is true that Boris was poorly in the Autumn but, following a really successful operation and hours of careful care, medication and attention from Small Boy, he had been very much back to his usual self. So finding his little body lying peacefully, but very lifelessly, in the vivarium leaves us completely stunned and bewildered.

Then comes the realisation that he is gone and that sadly the ‘gecko years’ are over…

And what a roller coaster they have been. For lots of the time, Boris was the easiest of additions to the household. Happily hunting and feeding or basking and sleeping in his variety of caves and shelters. However, whenever anything went wrong … it was quite an adventure! And no; I am not talking about capers with the live crickets he fed on, although pursuing any nimble, high-jumping escapees around the house was certainly an experience! Nor the building of the vivarium, which, for DIY dimwits such as my son and I, was one very long evening. Far and away, our biggest challenges came with the two or three times Boris had ailments. The nearest vet for tropical pets was at least a 40 minute drive away (far longer in rush hour) and this lead to several epic trips, battling the Manchester traffic to make appointments after a long day at work.

Tense and tiring times? Absolutely … but also some of the best of times. Why? Because Small Boy and I lived this together.

My youngest child has always had a big heart, but his capacity to keep going, hold onto slivers of hope and never give up on our little gecko was utterly impressive. He definitely inspired me, on several occasions, to put aside my own exhaustion and dismay and … get on with doing what was needed. As for the long car journeys, although sometimes fraught they turned out to be lots of fun too. Singing ridiculous Gilbert and Sullivan songs (don’t ask us to explain why), treating ourselves to fast food at Maccies drive through as we finally turned off the motorway towards home and laughing our way through some utter navigational nightmares. It’s given us an extra bond, it’s given us some fine memories and , as I look back I realise that I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

So tiny Boris, although we feel rather low this week, we thank you for the life and joy you brought to our household over the last two and a half years. Sometimes it takes someone so small to remind us to cherish what is truly important; hope, family and fighting for the people (and pets) who matter. Rest in peace little gecko…

Beethoven, Mozart … and bliss…

Saturday 12 March 2022

After a stuttering start back into the post-covid world of music, I am finally fully part of a great concert…

The invite to play pops into my email inbox about 3 weeks ago. Not only a concert night, but also a pretty intensive schedule of rehearsals in the preceding week. I hover with indecision. Work is manic; the weather is grim, Small boy has mocks and ex-hub is visiting meaning that I would be free-er than usual, to kick up my heels for a boozy ‘Saturday night out‘. Yet, something makes me say ‘yes’ and I am so glad that it does because …I love every minute of it.

Of course it is crazy careering out for 7 -10 pm rehearsals after a ten-hour day at work. Of course parking in a large town centre is (for me) a flustering fiasco of QR codes and scanners. Of course I often don’t find time to eat and arrive at the hall shovelling down handfuls of Walker’s crisps whilst dealing with text messages from all and sundry. But; when I do finally sink into my seat on the stage all of that stops. The orchestra is a really good one and the three hours of rehearsal time are intense, absorbing and a complete escape from the world outside.

So; the wind may be howling. Small boy may need someone to ‘test me on Chemistry’. Boris the gecko may need a new UV light and some fresh crickets. I may have lessons to plan on the cosine rule. But between the hours of 7pm and 10pm, all of this noise fades away and my focus is taken totally with phrasing and shaping the symphonies of Beethoven and Mozart into beautiful music. And it is bliss!

Bliss to know that I have given time to a real piece of me this week. Bliss to be challenged and pushed to think about how every note is placed and played. And bliss, to have shut out the clamour of the every-day for a few hours to be part of melody, music and creativity. As one article, 10 reasons to join an orchestra, outlines,

Life is full of daily stresses. Work, family, bills, and other responsibilities can take their toll. Playing in an orchestra, on the other hand, requires a great deal of focus. For that reason, rehearsals and concerts can be a great way to divert your attention away from day-to-day troubles, stress, and to-do lists

The final concert is amazing. The audience clap and cheer the climatic Symphony and an emotional rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem.My mood soars. I feel happier and calmer than I have done for weeks. I am ready for the manic week ahead and, even more so, ready to say ‘yes’ to the next concert I am offered…

Car wash!

Monday 29 March 2021

Meeting friends on park benches? Early morning rounds of golf? Outdoor actual swimming pools (in March)! You can forget any of that – I am just counting down the days until the car washes open again!

Yes, poor old Windsor, my trust Toyota, is in a very sorry state after 3 months of national lockdown. Everyone needs one luxury in their life …. and mine is the car-valeter. As the only parent in the house, I do almost everything else. I launder, I clean, I shop, I try to cook, I mow the lawn, I experiment with DIY and I put out the bins. I just never clean or vacuum the car. In consequence, Windsor has just festered in mud and grime since January 2021. And he is not pleasant sight or smell any more. But my resolve to see it out, until the automobile washers and waxers are able to start us their businesses again, is unflinching.

I claim that it could …maybe… make financial sense, too. Windsor’s predecessor, Big Bertha, was always scrubbed and sluiced, by hand… my weary hand… and it did not end well. On a memorable, sadly fraught, final trip to the ‘We’ll take any car.com’ traders they scorned her faded, patchy paintwork worn away, it transpired, by my liberal use of washing-up liquid in the car-wash bucket. Noble Bertha, the vehicle that brought my children home from hospital, drove me up and down the M5 and M6 when my Dad was ill and transported me to a new life in the North West, when my marriage fell apart, was exchanged for a desultory three figure sum. She also had a dodgy exhaust and questionable head gasket, but no-one seemed to notice this. For those forecourt financiers, it was all about appearances. So when I bought my new car, I packed my squeezy liquid away and decided to let the professionals take charge. And once you allow someone else to clean your vehicle, there is just no going back!

Whether it’s the local hand car washers or, on my more decadent days, the pricier outfits who buff and polish your vehicle while you lunch or shop, it’s farewell to sloshing buckets of water through the house. Adios to endless rinses to get rid of those darned bubbles. So long to soggy jumpers and jeans and red freezing hands. And no more tangling and tripping myself up in the cord for the hoover. Above all, it is protecting a few precious minutes in my day from yet another task of sheer drudgery. I think I definitely deserve that!

And so I am prepared to wait just a little bit longer. Can’t say I have heard much about car-washes in Boris’ road map out of Lockdown but maybe that’s a good thing. Let them re-open quietly, without fanfares and fuss. Let’s divert the crowds with the lure of alfresco cafes and groups of six in the back garden and leave me (and Windsor) to be at the front of the queue…

Vaccine!

Saturday 27 March 2021

Today I get my first does of covid-19 vaccine…

Vaccines, vaccines, vaccines! Is there any other topic of conversation these days? Who should be jabbed? Who shouldn’t? Vaccine side effects, vaccine efficacy, vaccine passports. I even hear a radio presenter debating ‘what to wear’ for his vaccine!

At work on Monday, as the PC begins its reluctant crawl into action, knowing I have 5 minutes to fill, I too launch into a vaccine discussion with one of my classes,

So vaccines for football players? What do you think? Think I’m mostly for it. It’s a bit of a strong analogy ,Year 11, but like the gladiators of Rome, we have sent them into the arena to entertain us and they probably deserve to be protected?”

” Oh Miss no! Terrible idea!” chirps up us a football fan on the front row, “At times this season, it has really helped us to have half the opposition’s team taken out with covid!”

Well, that makes me laugh out loud, but then he adds,

“And I’d just rather my nan got her vaccine…”

And then others join in and there are some incredibly sad tales of the misery that covid has brought into their lives over recent months. What is humbling however it that, for this room of teenagers, their only vaccine concerns are for others and usually family members.

When I get home, with my pupils’ voices still ringing in my head, I find my vaccine letter on the mat and it brings a family problem I have sharply into focus. Someone on my household needs this vaccine far more than I do. One of my children is a severe asthmatic, ticking all the JCVI boxes for a higher category than me. Our GP practice have informed me of this but have not, despite me checking several times this month, been able to organise an actual vaccination date. There is always some vagueness about time frames or some new reason why her invitation is yet to appear and it has been incredibly frustrating. Re-inspired by my pupils, however, I push my letter aside and, once again call the GP. They respond 2 days later and this time the news is more positive

She should definitely be hearing this week!” they assure me

And, even though they have let us down so many times before, I foolishly believe them. With hindsight, it has been such a long struggle that I think I am just too desperate for it to be over. With my lovely girl finally ‘in the line’, I feel able to book my own appointment with a clear conscience.

Alas, by Friday, we have heard nothing and I have to call again.

Our supplies are a little low. We are expecting more next week. So can you call back then?”

Do I call them? Do they call me? They seem unclear and, dare I suggest, unconcerned, about which way it is organised and I realise that, as is so often the case with an asthmatic child, it will be down to me to make anything happen here. With a jolt of maternal guilt, I wonder whether because, unlike the majority of the population, I do not work from home and am ‘on duty’ between 8am and 915am every day, that others just call and grab any available appointments. Her dad has tried on occasion, but life hasn’t taught him the need to be quite as relentless as me . I add ‘call GP’ to my gargantuan list of jobs for Monday and realise, with a heavy heart that I have failed and will in fact be getting this jab before the only person in our house who needs it.

So how do I feel this evening? I know that I should feel ‘proud‘ and ‘grateful‘ and ‘full of hope‘, because the countless selfies and social media posts, tell me this is the expected reaction. But I am afraid that I feel none of this. I feel embarrassed and downright ashamed to have leaped ahead of my own child, my vulnerable child, in this vaccine queue. A tad over-dramatic I’ll concede but, what kind of mother pushes her own child off the lifeboat to clamber aboard in their place? Tonight I feel like a parental disappointment and my vaccine, for someone the world has happily sent unprotected into a covid-hot spot of a high school for most of this pandemic, seems a pointless price to have paid…

What do we tell our daughters?

Mother’s Day 2021

As the sun sets on Mother’s Day 2021, the saddest of events in the UK has left me wresting with a pretty challenging maternal dilemma…

The death of Sarah Everard in London, murdered as she walked home from a friend’s house, strikes a terrifying chord with most women this week. And I am not only a woman in my own right, I am also a mum to two wonderful daughters. What advice do I give them that allows them to live their lives, freely, boldly and with adventure but also keeps them safe?

In a midweek call, my Eldest wants to talk running shoes. Let me re-phrase, she want to talk about me paying for running shoes!

You’ll be so proud of me mum! I am taking up running!

I am pleased, but one question, screaming in my head that I try so hard not to ask, is not about distances or training schedules or Strava….

Who will you be running with?”, I eventually blurt out

Mostly just on my own… like you do mum!” comes my daughter’s cheery reply

And my heart goes cold. Do I now have to tell my lovely girl how I run by myself: always in daylight, always on a busy main road, never through a park, a wood or a country track, never with headphones… the safety measures go on and on and on. Do men have these thoughts? I just don’t know. What I do know however is that I have been having them since the age of 13.

Thirteen was third year at school and coincided with the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror. Our teachers spoke to us about it in lessons. Some girls had sisters at Leeds Uni and we prayed for their safety and courage for their families. Although 25 miles away, we were also told to be careful. And I was petrified. Haunted in sleepless nights and dreading… just dreading each day, the long, dark and lonely walk from the bus stop to home. When he was caught, I thought I might feel safe again. But, once planted, the worry and fear never goes away completely.

Even now, the walk back to the car, on my own in the dark still panics me at the end of every rehearsal and concert. I no longer use the car boot, but instead have perfected a technique of hurling my oboe, stand and myself into the front seat as quickly as I can before hitting the locked door switch. My first solo rung on the property ladder, at the age of 28, was a flat, because it felt safer than a house with a garden and rear access. If I do have to head out, on foot, in the dark for any reason, I walk in the middle of the road and with keys firmly gripped between the knuckles. It is very sad and what shocks me to the core this week, as I listen to various radio phone-ins, is the sheer numbers of other women who also live like this.

Ninety seven percent! That, in research by UN Women UK, is the staggering statistic, giving the proportion of women aged 18 to 24 who report being sexually harassed. Surely unbelievable? But, as I look back, I do recall episodes from my own past. Running for cover, as a teenager in France, when man exposed himself to me and my friend and ‘pleasured himself’ all over our picnic rug. In my twenties, followed back to the hotel in Portugal and bombarded with calls to our room, from the reception desk throughout the night. Chased by a group of young men in a car and then on foot, when a friend and I once did cut through a forest path a night. And I am sure of this. We didn’t report any of these incidents to anyone. We didn’t expect anyone to protect us. We admonished ourselves and expected to modify our behaviour. Only go out in groups of four or more. Stay closer to the hotel compound. Keep to the busy main roads. I now realise that this cannot be right. Cannot be fair. Cannot be acceptable. But how will it ever change?

And what to tell my daughters right now? Or, as some commentators suggest this week, what to tell my son? For me however, it seems far easier to bring up the subject and find the words for a chat with Small Boy. Hey, he is currently reading We should all be feminists’, he’d probably be able to offer me a few pointers! Plus I remember the lovely men I grew up with. Such as my boyfriend’s pal J, who would walk 18- year old me home every Saturday night from our Metro stop. It was about 30 minutes out of his way, but at the start when I’d bravely say

Oh you really don’t have to – it’s such a long way!

He would laugh and make light of it,

I know I don’t have to, but you are doing me a favour! Mum –I did know his mum- will kill me if I go home this drunk! The walk will sober me up!”

or

You say it a long way, but it’s still nowhere near long enough for you to explain how on earth you think The Style Council can ever compare to The Jam!

And later, when I was honest enough to just say ‘Thank you’ he replied,

“It really is nothing and it stops me worrying about you all night !”

Yes, he was worrying too. And I am sure that many dads, brothers and good male friends also find this situation intolerable.

But is still leave me wondering, what to tell my daughters. The national debate, demands that we aim to re-educate and change our culture completely. But I decide that I cannot wait that long. Many authors have described violence against women as the ‘hidden pandemic’ and  I certainly fear it more than I fear covid-19. Abhorrent as it is to accept that my daughters too may face a life of caution and unease,  the thought of them coming to harm is even more chilling.

The balance between freedom and safety makes a fateful tip. I hit the facetime button,

So, running on your own is fine but you might want to think about these few pointers….

Back to school… again…

Sunday 7 March 2021

The covid lateral flow test – nobody mentioned that on my PGCE course!

Our esteemed PM hails tomorrow’s return to school as a positive move back to normal life,

It is because of the determination of every person in this country that we can start moving closer to a sense of normality — and it is right that getting our young people back into the classroom is a first step.”

Boris Johnson March 2021

I must confess, however, to a slight hesitation in sharing his optimism. But maybe that’s a good thing, because back in September I was bursting with excitement about the re-opening of schools and honour at contributing to the rebuilding of education and well-being for our young people. And I was very wrong. In fact I was breathtakingly naive and foolish. Within days, the Autumn term of 2020 turned into a living nightmare. The devastation and disruption of endless cases of covid and the requirement for staff and pupils to isolate repeatedly was on a scale none of us had anticipated. Classes were sent home. In some weeks staff absence resulted in year groups being sent home. Desperate to reduce bubbles and pupil contacts, we lost PE lessons, we lost lessons in Science labs and pupils literally spent 5 hours a day confined to the same room for all subjects. If they were in school at all. The Education Policy Unit in their report, ‘School attendance and lost schooling across England since full reopening‘ , found that across the country Secondary school attendance dropped from 95% to between 80% and 90% in many areas, with the worst hit seeing figures fall as low as 71%. Is that education? Is that inspiration for life-long learning? Is that back to normal?

Well for 2021, it probably is. Tomorrow we re-open with all the same restrictions and curricular compromises but we throw in several thousand tests and policing the latest DFE brainwave, the mandate that teenagers wear face masks from 9 until 3! There is a difference of course, we now have a vaccine and daily we hear the rapidly ramping-up figures trumpeted by the Government as a symbol of national pride and achievement. But is the vaccine is for school staff or any other front line workers not in a health-care setting? No it is not. The jabs are currently triumphantly wrapping a halo of safety around a population of stay-at-home locked-down adults who are not required to mix with thousands of pupils, or shoppers, or members of the public in Mr Johnson’s ‘back to normal’ world.

But hearing some of the comments from pupils last week, makes our profession push aside the hurt and anger, at being forgotten by central government,

“The testing? I am a bit worried- do I have to do it in front of other people?”

” I just feel anxious about the thought of being sent home again!”

I’ve given up on the exams – I know I am going to fail them all”

Yes let’s hope, even pray, that I am wrong to be worried and that we do, after a hectic week of testing, actually manage to stay open this time and restore some much needed stability into the live of of young people. Even better, that we take away the ‘track and trace’ and the distraction of masks and actually are allowed to get back to our job of educating. Because I don’t worry so much about the loss of a bit of Shakespeare or the fact that we may have to do some after school revision of trigonometry. My worry is that if schools are not freed up to get back to our version of normal that some of our teenagers will soon lose all confidence, trust and hope in the future.

Anyway, time for me to get back to practicalities. School uniform, Sunday night ironing and topping up the dinner money for Small Boy. Good luck next week to all our wonderful schools and the amazing work they do…

Lockdown week 1: Bingo!

Sunday 29 March 2020

The weekend comes to a close with a family game of Bingo, on Zoom!

Zoom Zoom Zoom, suddenly everybody is talking about Zoom! The video conferencing platform, designed for the world of business, appears to have become the vehicle of choice for people searching for way to keep in contact, without leaving home. My brother arranges for the entire family to hook up to Zoom as a boost for mum. This lovely lady has accepted her corona sentence, of indoor solitude for 12 weeks, but isolation is not her natural state. No, better adjectives for my mum would be outgoing, sparkling, fun -loving and mischievous. In consequence, she finds the prospect of 3 months on her own daunting, to say the least. Let’s hope face time can soften the blow!

Bingo is pencilled in for the weekend. The teens and I experiment by calling mum mid-week for a practice. It’s a good job we do. I am a bit of a luddite anyway, and go round in circles, stuck in a meeting with myself for about 20 minutes! When we finally make contact, there is much excitement, which descends into hilarity as mum cannot figure out how to leave the meeting and, long after she has bid us ‘farewell’ and pottered off to make her tea, can be heard clattering around in the kitchen. I realise that it’s the most laughter we have shared for quite a while. And laughter is great medicine!

As Sunday dawns, we set out on a quest to have all out jobs done by 7 pm, the appointed Bingo -hour. We start with shopping, for us, for mum and for one of her friends. My mother’s list is much more exotic than our staples, with its poached beetroot, ginger tea and ripe avocados. And that probably explains why we waste so much time searching the half empty shelves for her ‘Partridge sachets‘, which eventually turn out to be a predictive text version of ‘Porridge‘! On the eerily quiet roads of a Covid-ruled world, however, we make up time on the drive to mum’s house, where we enact a contactless swap in the porch; groceries for bingo cards! Pausing only to wave through the window, we hasten home to complete the rest of our chores.

By 7pm, the car is cleaned, the house spruced, work emails sent, a roast dinner enjoyed … and it is ‘Eyes Down ! We ‘zoom‘ in from the North, South , East and West of our green and pleasant land. The Bingo set was my Dad’s and I believe dates back to the early 1960s. Bingo is the way we finish our annual family Christmas party every year without fail and so we all know the rules, the calls, the ‘clickety clicks‘, the ‘two little ducks‘! It is the perfect way for us all to launch an era of virtual connection in these strange times. For us Bingo is familiar, Bingo is fun, Bingo is family ….

Is it only a week?

Thursday 26 March 2020

At 8 pm tonight we stand at our doorways with our neighbour to ‘Clap the Carers’. And we do clap! We loudly applaud and cheer the magnificent NHS workers who have heroically battled the spiralling number of UK corona virus cases on the front line. They have seen unthinkable sights and suffering, risked their own lives and sacrificed time with their own families for each of us and our country. They are indeed the most critical of all the workers in a society that usually values other more highly. In a world that has transformed itself in a matter of days, this now seems obvious. It is a moment to unite behind a better set of values, but how long will it last?

The life I was living one week ago now seems as a distant memory. Go back two weeks and I start to feel as though I am currently living in a dream. We are now not allowed out of the house except to work, shop or enjoy one daily run. My mum and my middle child are not allowed out at all, for the next 12 weeks. All school trips are cancelled. School exams cancelled. Concerts cancelled. Sport cancelled. Pubs are closed. Non-essential shops are closed. Galleries closed. Restaurants closed. Essentially any life outside of work and home is over for the next few weeks for us all.

Some parts of it are quite nice. I now have a job that actually finishes at 5 pm each day, instead of invading my evenings. I go running with two of my children, instead of by myself. My eldest, suddenly free from exam stress, bustles about shopping, cleaning and cooking meals. She buys board games and new packages for the Wii. She makes plans to redesign the garden. She even signs up for the NHS Army of Volunteers… did I not mention that my girl is unstoppable! Prom-dress Daughter is redecorating her bedroom and the bathroom. All three help each other with school work. We definitely feel like an even stronger family unit and some commentators speak of closer community bonds in the wider world. But of this, I am more sceptical.

The press and social media platforms soon shift their attention to criticism and blame of anyone and everything that moves. A nation are told to ‘stay at home’ and then lambasted by the press for for ‘stocking up’ on food and provisions. A nation mends their ways and starts popping out to the local store to just ‘get what they need’ and social media screams abuse at them for not ‘staying at home’. The PM advises us to get out in the fresh air and on a sunny weekend that is what families do. They head for mountains and beaches and unfortunately for them, so does everyone else and the over-opinionated demand a ‘lock down’ or ‘fines’ for the sinners.

And I say … it has only been a week everyone! People have been asked to adapt and change their lives beyond recognition in a week. We are trying, most places I need to go to look like ghost towns, but it is confusing and scary and we don’t get it all exactly right all the time. We worry about jobs, about money, about loved ones, about an unseen enemy. I see ventilators on the news and I am dragged back to the horrors of Prom-dress daughter’s last hospitalisation for asthma. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we just all remembered to ‘Be kind’ – wasn’t that our national pledge earlier in 2020? Educate and remind gently. Support and explain. Really look out for each other and help each other to make sense of a rapidly changing and terrifying situation.

Hey, even if I am in not a dream, I certainly fear am too much of a dreamer . Good luck everyone. Keep safe and well …

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 …