Friday 8 January 2020
Home-made cheese and onion, with chutney and a few brussels all washed down with a dark fruity stout- could there be a better way to end a very long week…
With a third national Lockdown, schools closing and exams cancelled, it’s certainly been a challenging 5 days, but I do feel okay. And okay for me at the moment is a lot better than usual.
Yes, on a more serious note, my mental health has been on a downward turn in recent months and threatened to spiral out of control over the holidays. For the first time ever, I went to bed on Christmas Eve dreading that Christmas Day would be a ‘1 out of 10 day’, terrified that I would not be able to paint on a cheery festive face and make sure that everyone had a lovely time. I live at a comfortable ‘5 out of 10’ most of the time. Not great, I concede, but sufficient to function and ‘fool the crowd’.
“Above all, I hope that I can be as happy as you always seem to be!”, a pupil wrote on a thank-you card to me a couple of years ago. And I recall feeling shocked and an utter fraud. I almost ran after them shouting,
“Please please please, let me be a role model for anything but this…because this is a lie and a sham. I actually can’t remember what ‘happy’ feels like!”
But I didn’t. I just smiled, pinned the card onto my board with all the others and faked on with the day!
But something about corona virus has knocked even this stoic ‘get on with it’ spirit out of me and, to my horror, as the sun rises on 25 December, I feel the dark cloud of despair descend and although I do drag myself out of bed, I am gripped with a panic about ruining the day for everyone.
Until this happens… people arrive. It’s mum and an old friend, and just these relatively new faces really cheer me up. Thereafter I have the meal to prepare and the busyness and sense of purpose, not to say challenge for this self-confessed cooking calamity, drive the darkness away and I am able to ‘keep calm and carry on’.
And Christmas continues in this way. Friends call on Zoom. The teens’ Dad visits. And all of it is a wonderful change and distraction from the news and the gloom and the horrible uncertainty of our covid-world. It also gives me a wake up call. I need to be occupied and I need goals and diversions. Parenting is tough; single parenting even more so. My hobbies are a life line because, they give me space to be me again. Not only a Mum marking the march through life with the lines on her face. No the me who still feels 25 on the inside and loves that when she runs, she feels the strength in her body and the oxygen in her lungs. Loves that when she plays music she is part of the noise and feels her emotions soar. Loves that when she tackles some tricky maths, or reads a great novel (or even writes a blog post) the numbers, concepts and words dance around in her mind forming and re-forming and making new thoughts and ideas. But at more basic level, my hobbies keep me busy. If covid has taken some of this away; I need to put something back
So my resolutions for 2021 are formed. Forget ‘Dry January’, writing a novel or training for a half marathon! These are simply about well being and routine. I commit to: drinking at least 2 litres of water a day, running at least a mile a day (The Ron Hill idea), and doing 2 yoga workouts per week.
And after a week of my new regime, I am feeling okay; focused and stable. I enjoy ‘Yoga with Adriene‘, a rare space of 40 minutes that seems, luxuriously, about self-care. The water; well probably my favourite thing of all, as it gets rid of the scourge of daily headaches. For the first time in years, I walk past the the anadin-extra shelf in the supermarket, without adding a weekly box to my trolley. As for the running – well what a week to start! Weather- wise, it is more than ‘grim up North’ as January 2021 gets into gear, it is the bleak bloomin’ mid-winter. How much do I feel like running as I arrive home in the cold, ice and fog? I struggle to think of anything that seems less appealing. But I make myself do it – it’s only 10 minutes after all. And, once out, I love it. Crisp, energising and peaceful. Just very very chilly. I could probably do with some gloves! Maybe, if I keep on saving on the anadin -extra, I’ll treat myself to a pair! In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy my cheese and onion pie…
Saturday 16 January 2021
Is it only me, or are teenagers not the most tolerant as their mum tries to cling onto the rapid pace of technological change in the 21st century …
Okay, I’m not as quick or slick as anyone else in the house when it comes to texting, scrolling and scanning on the mobile phone. Admittedly, I can whirl around the electronic ether in bewildered circles trying to connect to a friend on Zoom. Yes, I do accept that my failure to ever load more than 2 songs onto the i-pod did, in fact, condemn us all to Robbie William’s ‘Candy‘ and ‘Moves like Jagger‘ on endless repeat during one very long (and tense) car journey to Wales. But the palpable embarrassment, the eye rolling and the mocking laughter from my offspring really does not help. At my lowest, it make me feel old and flustered. And the irony is that I used to be pretty good. I was even whole school ICT trainer about 20 years ago! It was, if the truth be told, three maternity leaves, yes the arrival of the trio of doubters themselves, that threw me off course. By the time I made it back into the workplace, the world has moved on and I’ve been playing catch-up ever since.
Most days I can see the funny side. Nonetheless, I resolve not to tell the teens about my electronic exploits at work…
My first major foray into the wonderful world of Microsoft Teams comes in November with the Year 11 Mocks. A week out from the start of our exams, thirty pupils are sent home to isolate and I take the decision to concurrently run mocks remotely for those not in school. Knowing that I’m not the most confident with new technology, I compensate by being over-prepared and arriving very early to start each session. And all runs smoothly. Numbers wax and wax further as ever-more covid cases hit pupil attendance, but I rise to the challenge. So much so that by the start of week 2, I become a bit blase and that is where things go a little pear-shaped.
It is a ‘double-mock’ day. English Lit runs like a dream and I allow myself the luxury of going to lunch, nonchalantly popping back with only 2 minutes to spare for the start of the Science exam. I find the Teams chat already a flurry of activity,
“Miss we can’t get in; 10 of us are stuck in the lobby”
“Has the exam started yet Miss – I’ve been trying to get in for 5 minutes?“
To my horror, I find that I can’t get in either! Not only that, but I cannot even see the lobby! Battling rising panic, I tap out a reassuring reply.
“Hi everyone. There’s problem at our end, Give me 5 minutes to work it out!“
I hit the edit key and scour my invite like a crazed hawk trying to work out what has gone wrong. Then another message pops up
” Where is everyone? Five of us are in an exam but Miss isn’t here? It does say ‘English’ though, not ‘Science’?”
I gaze in shock at the screen. Where on earth are … any of them? Could I go down in history as the first teacher ever to have pupils floating around lost in the electronic ether? By now I have over sixty pupils doing mocks at home, and, in increasing numbers, they all seem to join the chat with queries and questions. In the growing chaos, one poor trusting soul even types,
“Don’t worry. Miss knows and is sorting it all out.”
Well she had more faith in me than I do at this moment!
And then suddenly, from somewhere, inspiration strikes. My strained eyes notice that I have sent the meeting invite out as a face-to face meeting. I click a button to switch it to ‘Teams Meeting’ and … boom, problem solved! Pupils’ face flood onto the screen. I instruct the famous five sitting in the English exam to leave their exam and re-join us in Science and we are ready to start. I smile, in glorious relief, at the gathered ranks and decide to dodge the blame,
” The school wifi !” I fib , with a helpless shrug of the shoulders, “Thank you all for being so brilliant and hanging on . Anyway. Science. Have we all got our equipment ready …?”
Thereafter, I go back to arriving 20 minutes early for every exam.
One upside of my mock exam adventures is that when we do shift all lessons online, in response to, pupil cases, staff shortages and then Lockdown, I am feeling pretty confident, even proud of my middle-aged voyage on this steepest of learning curves. Until that is a message from a Year 10 pupil pops up at the Leadership Team meeting
“Miss – why is tomorrow’s lesson at 5:30pm?”
“Yikes! ” I confess “It should be at 2. I’ll change it now“
“OK Miss. Thanks -no probs“
Well, on the bright side, at least my pupils are a lot kinder than my own children…
Tuesday 26 January 2021
Twenty six days into my 2021 resolutions, I have 26 runs and 82 km on my Strava . Gracious me, that’s over 50 miles!
Throughout January, inspired by Ron Hill and his 52 years and 39 days record of running every day, three and a half weeks of tootling around the block every day, and a little bit further at weekends has brought me to this landmark. Incredible! Who knew that a 10 minute jog on a daily basis could add up so quickly!
I am ready to stop though. Yes, come the 1 Feb, I will be giving my running shoes a well earned rest. I have really enjoyed the daily dash. I go a little bit further each week. I go a little bit faster too. I feel energetic, oxygen fuelled, clear skinned and bright eyed. More importantly I feel calm, refreshed … and self-indulged. And this is why I love a New Year Resolution. Whilst psychologists may decry resolutions as needless self -pressure to impose upon an already demanding world, and even the health and well-being experts queued up to espouse this view as we finally consigned 2020 to the history books, I think the complete opposite. I find that our new year tradition is one of the only times in the calendar when I do focus on myself. It may only be 10 short minutes each day, but it is , nonetheless, time when I just think about me. Not my teens. Not my job. Not my mortage. Not the sometimes bleak future….just me… and my crazy January goals! And as 2021 dawned, after a year when the demands, stress and, above all worry, about everyone and everything had threatened to crush me , I needed this more than ever.
But I realise tonight, as I burst back into the house, trainers muddy, leggings soggy and face glowing with the cold, that I am better. And that means, that 5 days from now, it is time to stop. Because I am ready to get back, back to the grind and the gruelling but above all the glorious roller coaster of life a mum, an educator and someone who thinks life is about probably about something more important than kilometres and run schedules! Of course I’ll still do my weekly 10k, I might even do occasional circuits of ‘the block’ but its adios to charting my progress, checking Strava every evening and thinking that a day without a run is a failed one!
On the news today there is a far grimmer milestone . Covid deaths in the UK top one hundred thousand for the first time. It certainly puts life into perspective. I need to start focusing on the small contribution I can make to this current situation. Because if miles are covered one step at a time, who knows what we can achieve with many individual efforts to see this through and play our part. Rejuvenated by my month of running , I now have the energy and strength to try again…
“To get through the hardest journey, we only need to take one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping…”
Friday 29 January 2020
Well cheers to us this evening! I am feeling super proud of my trio of teens. This has been a good week…
In a corner of the North East, my Eldest makes it through her first set of University exams. She doesn’t get the results for a few weeks but, frankly, I couldn’t care less about any scores. I find it blooming incredible that, despite being left to study Medicine from a laptop in her Uni room and having no face to face teaching or learning for 11 months, she gets her nose to the grindstone, grapples with huge quantities of complicated new knowledge and revises and prepares like an absolute trooper. Simply astounding!
Back home, Prom-dress daughter faces her EPQ presentation. The stresses of Lockdown aside, my middle child has flourished academically at sixth-form. These days, I’ll be frank, we all struggle to keep up with her! I marvel at the reams of research, as I agree to read her final epic of an essay. Tentatively, I suggest the occasional comma but, if truth be told, the sophistication of the arguments and the complexity of the ideas are beyond me and I mostly just content myself with being happily in awe! She has loved writing this piece of work but standing up to present it and face questions from a panel of students and tutors? Alas, for my shy, quiet girl, that is a terrifying thought. Her only option, to control those nerves, is preparation. She gets tips from college, from her dad and from one of my fabulous friends and grafts away, using the advice to get ready. And come Thursday morning, just as I am starting a live lesson from the lounge, I hear her bravest ‘game face’ voice from upstairs launching into her presentation. Yes, I’ll confess to a little tear and know I couldn’t feel any prouder.
And so to Small Boy. It’s a first GCSE music performance for my son, also over the electronic ether. It’s a piece of film music that he has found and taught himself. And it is beautiful. I do love film music and having the romantic and evocative melodies filling the house over the last few weeks has been wonderful – at times, as my talented boy adds rich chords and plays around with the tempo, it has felt like having little bit of my dad back. But, above all, the reason I feel most pleased with my youngest child is that, like his sisters, he puts the work in. Yes, he practises that lovely piece to perfection. And, as he tunes in looking a little green but emerges all smiles from the recording, let’s hope he realises; that’s what gets results!
And thus, the week ends. There’s a bottle of Malbec for me, a gift from my boss for helping him out with a piece of work. I fill a glass and sink onto the sofa feeling tired but calm and happy. Kids! They can be such a worry, but at least in this rare moment I feel confident that mine are going to be okay; inwardly strong, resilient and ready …. for life? Hey, I am sure it will be a different story next week but, for now, I raise my glass,
“To you teens – top efforts this week!”
Sunday 7 February 2021
The balloons and banners in the lounge look cheerful enough, as the February calendar counts down to our ‘double-birthday’ week. But, for the first time since Small Boy surfaced in the birthing pool, 15 years ago, only one of the birthday duo is here to celebrate. My eldest marks the start of her final teenage year away from home at Uni.
We send packages. We write cards. We even manage a cake. My daughter face-times around noon, a picture of smiles to show off her gifts and take us on a guided tour of the decorated student kitchen. But as her lovely face fades from the screen, the mood falls a little flat and blue for the rest of us. I think it is the first day, since she headed off to Higher Education in the Autumn, that being three and not four just doesn’t feel right; just doesn’t feel as good; just feels a little sad.
Birthdays! Family landmarks indeed, with long shared and much loved traditions. Maybe that’s why they stir the emotions like no other day in the 365. I do remember, in the first year after I lost my father, it was actually not his birthday when I wobbled, but mine. The arrival of my special day with no card from my dad, no flamboyant ink-penned message, no familiar voice on the phone, it was a moment to feel his loss more deeply than at other times.
A year ago, my home was being invaded by 18 years olds, with bottles and music, shrieks and laughter. 10 years ago it was: birthday sleep-overs, soft-play centres, roller-rinks, pass the parcel and pinatas. 45 years ago, ‘murder in the dark’, cake, jelly and my elder brother bring hauled out for burying his face in the crisp bowl! Yes we did it all and thank goodness we did! Because the years do go quickly and there is no turning the clock back. I’ll pull myself together in a moment, but for the next half hour I think it’s okay to think back and miss all of it … quite a lot …
Saturday 13 February 2021
It is a day that all starts innocently enough…
Buoyed by birthday money, Small Boy is updating his wardrobe. My lovely son has his own style and very definite ideas about clothes. Yes, alas, the halcyon days of kitting him out for the season with a trip to Sports Direct, and still having change from a £50 note, are very much a distant memory. Today, I reluctantly concede, as a disappointing generational stereotype, to committing that cardinal parental-sin of looking a little startled by some of his choices. I find myself rightly subjected to a volley of indignation,
“Why are you looking like that mum?“
I can only hold up my hands in apology,
“Oh just ignore me. What do I know anyway? Look at the state of my dowdy outfit!”
And it is true. I guess you could blame lockdown but my current style is beyond frumpy and dull; it more or less says ‘given up on life.’ With my own birthday just around the corner, my shopping-mad offspring sense an opportunity,
“Mum – why not let us pick some new clothes for your birthday?“
I decide to agree. Yes, it could be fun to spruce up my ‘look’. In fact, I actually start to feel quite excited. Until that is I see Small Boy rapidly typing this into his search engine,
“Middle aged mum fashion”
ARGHHHHHHH! There it is! Out in the open. Not ‘sassy mum‘ not ‘sophisticated mum.’ Oh no! It’s the double edged sword of style derision for me, mumsy and … middle aged! Now, of course, at a personal level, I am only too aware of my advancing years. But hearing it from someone else, now that is a very different matter. Because it means that, if I did dare to think or hope that I was fooling the rest of you about being quite this old… I was sadly mistaken!
Middle-aged. Gosh what is it about that word? Well firstly, for those of you still in your thirties or forties, I bring glad tidings! The Huffington Post, claims that Middle Age does not actually start until you turn 53. But, as I read their entertaining article ‘40 signs you are Middles Aged’ , I’ll confess that I could have ticked off several indicators from list in my mid-forties! And I think this is the issue. It isn’t a particular age that you reach, it is a gradual realisation that you are no longer young, with life stretching endlessly before you as a blank canvas of opportunity. Some of your mental speed has gone. Some of your fresh-faced bloom has gone. Time, well that has well and truly gone. And, in place of all that youthful hope and energy, comes, for many of us, the judgemental misery of ‘taking stock’. In the grimmer works of Josh Cohen in the Guardian,
“The middle-aged person is liable to look in the mirror and see someone who could have done better, who has failed to fulfil their hopes and ideals.”
Cohen’s article, ‘Why is midlife such a lonely time?‘ addresses serious concerns about the impact of a culture of consumerism and competition on our mental health, a climate which has resulted in loneliness affecting 1 in 7 of those in the 45 – 54 age group. And it is certainly true that on my lower days, I can sit in a meeting with younger colleagues, or wander around a trendy dimly-lit clothes stores, feeling a little bit invisible and isolated from the world. As I prepare to wave a second teen off to University this Autumn, I can wonder where, or even if, I fit into society any more. I can find myself asking the question ‘What exactly have you done with your life?’
But, the truth is, I am very definitely not alone in this! Lisa Stein’s article for Scientific American, ‘Midlife Misery: Is there Happiness After the 40s?‘ find that a bit of a ‘blah’ is universal and all completely normal in your 40s and 50s. Even better, it does not last forever.
“ …by the time you are 70, if you are still physically fit, then on average you are as happy and mentally healthy as a 20-year old,”
Now I do find it all very comforting to learn that some moments of pondering, even gloom, are a common reaction to middle agedness. But seventy… now that is a bit too long to wait. I turn back to Small Boy’s screen. Do you know what – those middle aged mums are rocking the fashions! Time to place a few orders and embrace the mid-life, before that is over too …
21 February 2021
It’s a funny old half term and it all start with this Monday morning call.
” Am I speaking to the one and only Becky ….”
Yes, one very confident, chirpy cold caller! And life insurance broking is his game. Whilst I choose not to invest in any of the deals, he does make me stop and think about the insurance I do have. I root out my policy to find that it covers me for a bizarre number of years, with a seemingly random sum of money. It is clearly no longer fit for purpose and needlessly pricey. As I start to research alternatives however, I hit a brick wall of indecision…because making a wise choice depends on where I see myself and the teens in the next 5 or 10 or 15 years . And I just do not know. A lot can change in 5 years…
Here I am 5 years ago. It’s my birthday 2016. I am coupled up, dressed up and out for the evening!
Fast forward 5 short years to my recent 2021 Birthday and here I am, single, sitting in my lounge and Locked Down with a take-out curry!
Who could have known quite how different life would be? And the next quinquennial, promises to be no less dramatic in terms of change. No more teens, no more mortage, no need to work as many hours, no need to live in this corner of the North-west. It is difficult to know how to even start thinking about it all.
It has been a year when I have grown accustomed to living; day to day, tier to tier, Bojo press conference to inevitable U-turn! But if I thought I could run away and hide behind the covid curtains for a bit longer, I was mistaken. Half term also brings necessary negotiations with tree surgeons and roofers. Thinking through some fairly substantial financial decisions keeps bringing me resolutely back to the same daunting, dithering ground. Because, ‘How much to pay?‘ and ‘How much to do?‘ are all balanced by looking ahead to how much longer I expect to be here.
There is certainly a lot of advice out there for those of us facing the prospect of ’empty nesting’. Indeed the Citizens Advice reports finding “a huge demand – nearly half its enquiries” – from the 50-plus age group, for whom the main issues were pensions, mortgages, wills and life insurance. I have to be honest though, at the heart of my unease is the fact that I’d never expected to be facing these choices and ‘resetting the life plan’ as a single person. Without a partner to bounce ideas off and help me to frame a way of thinking about it all, I’ll confess to feeling absolutely terrified. So I start smaller. Next week I have an appointment with a, Independent Financial Adviser to talk… about me. Not stereo-types, not ‘typical case studies’ for my age group, just me. And I feel calmer. It was clearly time to stop avoiding the issue, I am a long way from a plan at the moment, but getting some facts hearing some options, doing my homework…none of that can hurt, in fact is it very much what I am about…
“If you are planning for a year, sow rice. If you are planning for a decade, plant trees. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”
Saturday 27 February 2021
This week, a couple of friends make wobbly returns from lock down maternity leaves and I reflect upon how incredibly tough the last year must have been for isolated new mums. I am not sure how I would have coped without my ‘mum friends’ and toddler groups, even if this did all begin with the baby massage class …
It is true to say that I didn’t find new mother hood the easiest of times! I was exhausted, frequently frazzled and struggled to stop my Eldest from crying for, what seemed to be, the entire day! In hindsight, it was probably a desperate appeal for help from my poor daughter. Maybe, if she made enough noise, somebody capable might appear to rescue her from the clutches of the hapless amateur who had brought her into being!
Anyway, feeling pretty useless and fearful of the judgemental gaze of the public, I began to avoid leaving the house at all, until my Dad arrived. Sensing that I had lost confidence, he booked himself onto the direct train from Manchester Piccadilly on a quest to get me to re-join the world. And he wasn’t taking no for an answer! He dug out the programme of post-natal classes and told me I was going. The session that week… baby massage.
Managing to leave the house on time is a true logistical challenge for any new mum and on the morning of this fateful day, it was one that I was veering dangerously close to failing. Just about time to skim read the reassuring guidance for the class; ‘all you need is a towel and your favourite oil’. Simple enough you’d think? But I was now on the last minute? ‘Oil, oil, oil?‘ I muttered furiously, flinging open the kitchen cupboard to survey my options. The olive oil seemed my best bet. ‘A bit more sophisticated than sunflower’ I told myself, as I zipped the flagon into my baby bag and raced out of the door.
Fortune, oh how it smiled on me as I rattled up the hill! My daughter actually fell asleep in the buggy! I arrived at the local community centre in a rare moment of calm and was able to nod and smile at other participants. A tranquillity that was, alas, to be sadly short-lived! The class began and with reluctant dread I woke my sleeping child and transferred her to the towel. She was already beginning to squirm.
“Time for the oil ladies,” beamed the session leader
The other mums, reached for their bags and brought out dainty phials of … jasmine or lavender oil and my heart actually stopped for a moment. As the woman next to me rubbed a few drops of beautifully scented lotion in to her hands and then began to expertly massage her child’s tiny feet, I hoped no-one was looking as I fumbled a litre of cooking fat out of my bag, trying to half hide it under my coat. The cursed olive oil gushed from the bottle like a torrent, coating my hands and arms right up to my elbows. In growing panic, I slathered it onto my Eldest and she was quickly gleaming from top to toe, like a basted turkey ready for a roast in the oven! Understandably, she was not impressed. As other infants, cooed and gurgled with contentment, I saw her mouth open and heard her screams beginning to fill the room. I tried to intervene and pick her up but, by now, she was a slippery as an eel and I fumbled about powerless to prevent her building up to a full crescendo. It was a living nightmare. My mind went utterly blank, my throat too dry to speak… until I remembered the towel. I just about held it together long enough to wipe us both free of grease, return my daughter to the buggy, stuff all my belongings underneath and head for the exit. It was then I felt the tears begin to well.
Out in the cool corridor however, my Eldest immediately drifted off to sleep again. And in the sudden peace, I had the chance to gather my thoughts. Pretty silly to go home when I had got this far… and I’d have to face my Dad! Gulping back a sorry sob, I realised that it was time to be brave. I took lots of deep breaths, dried my eyes, gave my cheeks time to calm from a mortified puce back to an acceptable pink and slipped back in. We swerved the rest of massage and just sat quietly at the back of the hall. But we stayed for coffee and cake at the end. And that was the start; the start of mum friends! A supportive circle of also-new parents, for trips to toddler groups, play dates and eventually nights out .
Did any of them even notice my massage mayhem? I am not sure that they did, because, poised or fraught as any of us may have looked to each-other, I realise that we were all just pre-occupied with our own version of new-mother hell on most of those early days! The challenge of navigating parenthood for the first time, united us and the companionship would be a life-support mechanism to see us through both joyful and tough times with laughter, empathy and … plenty of alcohol!
As for baby massage, well there I had learned my lesson. When, in later years, the class popped up on the schedule for Prom-dress daughter and Small Boy, I made sure we had other plans…
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…
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!”
“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….
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…
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…