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. We have hooked the wider family into Zoom, to cheer mum up, and I have seen more of them in the last few days than I usually do in a year. 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 redesignthe 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 …

I

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 …

Life in the time of corona…

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Gosh, corona virus, where to start?

As covid 19 takes a grim grip of the UK, a dark cloud of anxiety seems to spread across our skies. Our enemy is hidden but unstoppable, swiftly and silently seeping everywhere and bringing consequences, as yet unknown. And it leaves me shellshocked.

I am sure that I will get used to it, but events have moved so rapidly in recent days that I am not there yet. A week ago in my household, we were just merrily washing our hands to a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday!‘s, and feeling pretty invincible. Today I drove to work along an empty motorway. My mum has been told to isolate herself for several months. I have difficult decisions to make about when and how to withdraw Prom dress daughter, a severe asthmatic, from the life she currently leads. Every event on my calendar has been wiped out. Supermarket shelves are bare. At work and at home, I am surrounded by anxious teenagers caught up in a suddenly chaotic and uncertain examination system. I see at least four frightened colleagues sent home and I try to timetable over the cracks …

It feels as if the world I know and understand is simply shutting down. And no-one I know has even begun to feel ill yet. So who knows what happens next. I am used to feeling stressed. I am used to feeling overwhelmed. I am used to feeling sad. I am just not used to feeling quite this scared …