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 staff having to take their own children for PCR tests, causes the teacher absence rate to rises rapidly and allows the dreaded “rarely cover” to re-appear 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.

Now 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 through an opening activity with aplomb. Alas, as we get deeper into our translation skills 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 to look at pictures of Gaudi’s basilica, I throw in the tale of my friend and I being mugged in Las Ramblas, when I actually visited Barcelona in the late 80s, as several hands shoot up, I hear several other holiday and passport disasters. Thereafter it is agreed that, if other self-help strategies fail as we work through our questions, (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 out the Senior Leadership Team 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 sent 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 ….

She’s leaving home …

Saturday 26 September 2020

On a bright Autumnal Saturday morning, Windsor’s suspension creaking under the weight of suitcases, boxes, pots and pans; two teens sandwiched into the back seat with pillows and duvets; my Eldest on navigation and me at the wheel, we set off to Newcastle Uni. My first child is leaving home…

It’s a happy journey. The two backseaters plug themselves into their phones whilst my Eldest and I, chat and laugh and harmonise along to songs on the radio. We arrive in good time and park in the city centre for a spot of lunch.

As is now the case anywhere in the UK, there are quite a few changes to city life. I am initially stunned by the contrast to the bustling Newcastle we last saw on a January interview; now transformed into a silent shopping centre where face-masked locals obediently snake along in a one-way system, socially distance on escalators and wordlessly queue outside busier shops. It’s a relief to get back onto the open streets, where following some track-and-trace scanning and hand sanitising we find ourselves safely in a Yo! Sushi booth with dishes whirling round to our table.

All three teens are completely at home in the new world of phone menus and remote ordering. I hand over my credit card and let them take over! Sitting back, with a smile, watching the trio laughing and joking their way through the dishes, I realise that I could be dropping any one of them off for a new life today. They all look so capable, so self assured and so ready to take their place in the world. The panic I thought I’d feel; that these fun, family times are coming to an end dissolves into pride. I just feel proud of the three, incredible young people I have raised and proud of our strong bond as a family. Things will be different from now on, but in all the ways that matter, we will be as close as ever.

After lunch we find the student accommodation. My Eldest hops out to pick up her keys and we see her chatting to other new students … many times, as the rest of us complete circuit after circuit in a fruitless attempt to locate a parking spot. As the car park attendant waves us by onto lap 4, I decide enough is quite enough and manoevre Windsor into, what is clearly an illegal spot, right outside the entrance to my daughter’s block. After that, we unload, smile at flat-mates and their parents, drive off to do a bit of food shopping and giggle as we return to find cones now sternly blocking our drop-off spot. As the sun starts to fade from the day, Small Boy and I leave the girls together unpacking for a last bit of sister-time before it is time to go.

Yes, there are tears at this point. And as we hit the motorway south with only 3 of us in the car, my heart begins to ache. I have so much confidence in my Eldest child. She is brilliant, she is unstoppable, she will make a great contribution to the world. I know that Newcastle Uni are really lucky to have her. But she is also one of my best friends, she has brightened my day for the last 18 years, and I am just really going to miss her …

Schools are back!

After months of school closure, September 2020 sees millions of children in England make a welcome return to the classroom.

Henry Beaumont (The Guardian August 2020)

For me, it starts with a day of teacher training. In an inspiring opening session, we learn that, bucking the national trend, referrals to our local safeguarding team have rocketed during lockdown. A shocking statistic without doubt, but I find it incredibly motivating too. It demonstrates just how important it is for us to be taking our place back in the community we serve. In recent weeks, the media have made much of ‘lost learning’ and no-one can argue against this being a significant driver in the decision to see all pupils back in the classroom. But a school is even more than that to some of our young people. For many, our seat of education serves primarily as a place to mix with friends, soak up knowledge and prep for exams. For others, it is clearly also a haven of stability, routine and refuge.

When our pupils do return, it is in their hundreds. By Friday we have over 1200 young people in the building. Yes, we have 5 entrances. Yes we have 5 different breaks. Yes we cannot move for hand sanitisers, face masks and one-way systems. Yes the times of the day are bewildering – I actually pack one class up 10 minutes early for lunch sitting 3! But fundamentally, in all the ways that matter, it feels gloriously back to normal. We might all be wearing face coverings, but that doesn’t change the people underneath. The chatter, the laughter, the hustle and bustle all seem to breathe life back into the very fabric of the building. A school really is its people.

Running up and down 3 flights of stairs many time day does take it toll however, and I eventually abandon my stifling mask in favour of a visor, made by the DT department. In the canteen, one of my new pupils calls me over,

Miss, you look as if you’re ready for that game. Where you have a name stuck to your forehead and have to guess who it is. Do you know that game?”

“Know that game? I love that game. In fact we will be playing that game in our last lesson before Christmas. We can all be famous Mathematicians!”

“Ooh like Py…thagoras! That Greek guy you told us about. The one who doesn’t eat beans!”

Another pupil, joins in,

“Or hytop…hypon…hy …oh I can’t even say it!!”

Hypotenuse“, I finish with a proud smile. “You have all been listening. I’m impressed!

A third pupil leans over,

“Miss, can you get me one of those?”

A visor? Leave it with me!” I say with a grin, moving away

And in moments like these, more than the day the Premier League came back, more that my first visit to the pub, or first post-Lockdown haircut, I feel as if life has started up again.

Who knows how long it will last. Each day the number of new covid-19 cases creeps a little higher, although fatalities remain low. As teachers we train for remote learning, blended learning and catch-up learning. Risk assessments are reviewed weekly and only get longer. We remain in a precarious position. But with attendance topping 96% for us this week, and reported to be between 91% and 100% in a wider national survey of schools, there are clearly a lot of families hoping the school gates remain unlocked long into the future …

The End of September

Monday 30 September 2019

As the sun sets on another September, it’s a good time to reflect upon the last 30 days.

Now I use the term ‘sun’ metaphorically, because the skies have actually pelted us with rain for most of the last 30 days and there are flood warnings in place across much of the UK, as the ninth month of the year comes to an end. I also read that 2019 has been the wettest across the USA as well. Is it a result of global warming and the alarming acceleration in the impact of humankind on the plant? Greta Thunberg would certainly say so, and September has seen this remarkable young woman deliver her passionate address to the UN Climate Action Summit, supported by further waves of, predominantly youth Climate Strikes, across the globe.

Closer to home, my young people have also has a productive month. My eldest has finally completed her personal statement, applied to Uni, started partying with avengeance, as the entire year group begins to turn 18, … and booked her driving test. Prom-dress daughter has made an impressive start to College life, joined the Production, re-joined the gym, signed up for various trips and blows my simple-mathematical mind, as she ponders her philosophy and history at the dinner table. Small Boy has ambled on quietly, possibly a little lost, as the girls have taken up a lot of my attention, but he seems okay.

As for me, well I did secure one new work opportunity but wasn’t successful with the other. So, whilst 1 out of 2 isn’t bad, I search on for a substantial change in my working life. Maybe my fortunes will change in October 2019? It’s a month when Mondays all fall on multiples of 7, which is always a bonus for me. I resolve to apply for at least one new job per month, pour myself a glass of wine and bid a fond farewell to a pretty good September, for the young people of the world as well as three I live with…

“Did somebody say…”

Friday 27 September 2019

“Anyone fancy a Dominoes for tea?” is all I innocently ask at 7am this morning. The house goes wild with joy. Smiling faces appear at usually firmly shut bedroom doors. My eldest starts belting out “Did somebody say…”, the well known refrain to Just East’s ad campaign, at the top of her voice. And before I know it, we’ve all joined in. There are harmonies, there is a congo and there is a lot of volume. Gosh they are easily pleased … or is my cooking really that bad?

Actually … it probably is. And I do try. In truth, I feel huge societal pressure to try. It began with the weaning years, when the ‘alpha mothers’, waving their Annabel Karmel bibles, briskly steered me away from those lovely, neat rows of supermarket food jars and persuaded me to embrace the messy, lumpy and thankless world of mashed sweet potato and spinach with potato goo. Ever since then, I have felt a huge pressure, not only to cook for the family ‘from scratch’… but to enjoy it too! And do you know what, “I dont!”

Ooooh, I’ve said it out loud. Might say it again. “I don’t like cooking! It’s a dull, dreary, chore sent relentlessly to ruin the loveliest of days.

“What’s for tea mum?”,

“When’s dinner ready mum?”

Is there any breakfast mum?”

It just goes on and on! One of the worst suggestions I ever listened to was ‘batch cooking’. Now there’s a day, of the Autumn half term of 2015, I’ll never get back! Lasagnes exploding all over the oven, seething pots of curry bubbling madly on the stove, triumphant vegetable bakes, collapsing into mush, as I tried to portion them into tupperware containers. Simply hell on earth! My children never have forgiven me, (and never should), for a hideous creation known as ‘vegetable crumble’. As for my recent pea and mint risotto, well the only place for that bowl of gloop was the food recycling bin!

Oh, fear not foodies and responsible parents of the land, I will, of course, continue to try. I accept that we cannot survive, nutritionally or financially, on take-away meals alone. But this Friday, which will drag on until 8 pm with various after school activities, I feel justified in casting my cook books aside and joining the teens in joyful song …

“Did somebody say….”