“Shhh! I hardly dare say it aloud, but I think I have just recorded my first negative covid test for … what feels like an age!”
A week of isolation, that is all it has been but it has taken its toll and I am going a little bit stir crazy! Why yes, we still have our board games, but we have played them to death. Our favourite was Trivial Pursuits, gloriously updated from the original 1980s version, so that my Gen Z offspring are no longer left puzzling over the ‘Male star of Man about the House in 1974′, but have questions that they can actually answer. Nonetheless, we have now circumnavigated the board so many times that we are struggling to find a card that hasn’t been used: yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that! Want to know the second largest German city by both area and population? I’m your girl!
Mealtimes too provide little variation, as the national season of leftovers collides with our dwindling supply of groceries. A once very fine Christmas dinner attempts a plucky revival each evening but progressively loses a little bit of shine each time, as we run down the veggies and scrape around the freezer digging out oven chips and bits of quorn to make up the nutritional numbers!
Prom-dress daughter is now also positive and, in consequence, when we do gather as a quartet to watch a new festive movie, we shiver in communal harmony with the lounge window wide open for ventilation and clinging to hot drinks for warmth!
Do I need to get out here? Well let’s just say that if you offered me a quarrelsome festive family walk right here and now, with everyone trudging gloomily along in the mud looking venomous and despondent … I’d bite your hand off!
And so it is that this afternoon’s negative test almost has me dancing with joy! I still need a second to secure my ticket to freedom, so I restrict my celebrations to breaking out of my pyjamas, for the first time in 8 days, and donning enough clothing to hit the garden and rake up some wet leave.
‘Woohoo – living the dream!‘
Of course I am very grateful that we are both OK … but please… finger, toes and everything crossed here for only one pink line on the lateral flow tomorrow….
Day three of the long awaited Christmas holiday and things are not exactly going to plan…
Ho ho ho! Did I dare to think that Christmas 2021 was going to mark a return to more festive familiarity; with the extended family WhatsApp whirring into December discussions about a month ago? Alas, no sooner have I collected both Uni girls from the station; handed round the glasses of seasonal Baileys and unveiled our new Christmas board games than…
I am floored on Saturday by a revolting attack of vomiting and severe headaches. Generally, there are few low level ailments that stop me; as a single parent of the past decade I’ve learned that being ‘under the weather’, duvet days and most variations flu/common cold/fever etc, are simply not a viable option for the only adult in the house and, thanks to my amazing allies, Anadin Extra and Lemsip Max, I’ve trundled on. But this; well I can hardly raise my head from the pillow! At 7pm, I attempt to prop myself on the sofa for the long anticipated ‘Strictly‘ final but, before the first ‘9’ paddle (Oh Craig; why not a 10?) appears on the screen, I have crawled back into bed to toss, turn and … well throw-up for the rest of the night until…
Sunday and “Ding dong merrily on high!” the sickness finally stops. I summon the energy to take and keep down a painkiller and my headache dulls to blissfully acceptable levels. Festivities are surely back on track! My eldest and I head into town, indulge in yuletide gingerbread lattes, find a few late gifts and splurge my Tesco ClubCard triumphantly on copious amounts of food and drink for the Christmas Day dinner. My mum comes over and the five of us have a hilarious evening of board games and mince pies. I do choose to wear a face mask, explaining, “I really don’t want anyone catching this disgusting sickness bug”, but that measure aside, it is holiday business as usual! In suitably high spirits, we all agree meet-up plans for the week ahead and turn in for what I hope will be a better night’s sleep.
But it is not great, because an irritating cough has set in and I am wide awake even before the 6am work text, ‘Remember to take your lateral flow test‘ pings onto the screen. Within seconds, the test goes a bright-pink, determinedly double-lined, impossible-to-miss … positive.
“Bloomin’ covid !”
Monday; very much the ‘Bleak Mid-Winter’! I drive to some god-forsaken testing centre where a disinterested youth, briefly looks up from his phone screen to pass me a PCR kit and nod his head towards a make-shift booth. Like some irrelevant miscreant, I skulk home to await my fate.
Let me be clear… I am not even remotely close to being ill any more, at worst I cough occasionally and feel mildly spaced out. Nonetheless, ‘I have covid!’ Moreover, I am an important key worker, who has ploughed through 2 years of disruption and chaos without a single day off and ‘I have covid!’ Even if that tester was completely unimpressed, can I not be allowed centre of attention status in my own home? And so, I trounce around the house like some spoiled brat, demanding star treatment from a bewildered trio of teens who do their best but, quite honestly, could carry me around in a sedan chair and serve my meals on a silver platter and I’d still find something to criticise. By the time I stomp off to bed on Monday evening, no-one is speaking to me and… I am confident that none of you would blame them…
Tuesday, brings: the PCR confirmation and me to my senses; well ‘Hark the blessed Angels sing!‘
I reorganise ‘Christmas mum-plans‘ with my brothers, apologise to… everyone in the house and start thinking instead about how to make holidays fun from the confines of my four walls. No traditional family film outing, but endless outstandingly awful, cheesy Christmas movie-originals on Netflix. At some point we may crack and turn out attention to worthy, unwatched classics, Citizen Kane; Breakfast at Tiffanys, Casablanca… but for now it is, unashamedly, the Christmas Princetrilogy! No lunches out, but at the touch of a button, lunches delivered in. No rushing around to perfect table trimmings or stocking-filler gifts, but … loads of time together, three cheers and Fa la la la la for my board games and …. a very welcome change of pace.
I am super-lucky, I know, to have such a mild dose. Be it the variance of Omicron, or my recent booster or just a fortunate roll of the dice, I am very grateful that I am not poorly, as so many friends and work colleagues have been with this wretched virus. And I will be glad to get out! When one of my brothers sends news of the reduction in isolation time to 7 days, I almost break the land-speed record to dig my box of LFTs out from under the bed and cross everything for a negative test (no joy yet alas!) But until I get my ticket to freedom, I will concede that sitting out the frenzy of the pre-Christmas prep has certain advantages. I may have to live without bread sauce on the 25th and have frozen peas instead of parsnips… but quite frankly I am struggling to remember why that was ever important ….
Going out on a school night? For the chance to hear Andy Burnham speak, I decide to give it a go!
It is almost a year to the day that Manchester’s Mayor was trending on Twitter as the ‘King of the North’. The nation watched on and the residents of the Northwest were gripped as he stood on the steps of the Town Hall in defiance of the Government’s tiering system and the decision to plunge our area into a set of restrictions without the funding to make these effective. Has this fight been vindicated? Some would say yes. The most recent update of the government’s performance during the pandemic, ‘Corona virus: lessons learned to date‘, drew this conclusion about the tiering system, not the words an administration committed, in name at least, to a ‘levelling up’ agenda, would have wanted us to read,
“The two months between September 2020 and 31 October 2020 were an unsatisfactory period in which the comparative simplicity of the rules in place from the evening of 23 March onwards were replaced by a complex, inconsistent, shifting and scientifically ambiguous set of detailed restrictions. The rules had previously been a matter of broad national consent, but that sense of national solidarity began to erode, as the uncomfortable stand-off in Greater Manchester showed“
Source: Corona virus: lessons learned to date (12 October 2021)
But even without this, for one may argue that, ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’, what our region does remember, as this year’s local council elections verify, is that someone had the passion and bravery to take such a stand on our behalf. We actually mattered to someone in politics. And it is really for this reason that, when I hear that Mr Burnham will be speaking at an event nearby, my friend and I, purchase tickets, and set out to lend our support.
I must admit that most of the event is just fun; (hot) buffet, bar with (too much) red wine for me, lots of interesting people to talk to and plenty of laughter and entertainment. Even amidst this social frivolity however, Andy Burnham’s speech is a great highlight. His ‘3 point plan’, for our region and our country, is clear, positive and purposeful and, just as I found one year ago, I feel my mind and soul waking up from the slump of months of dismal, dreary political news and thinking, ‘Yes, there is a better way! Yes there is some point in standing up for what you believe in! Yes there is still a place for values and principles 2020s Britain! Yes, you and your work do make a difference.’
Isn’t that what we all need, as we battle through each day? To know that we have a purpose and that we do matter. It is certainly true for me. So even if I do find the Friday 6am alarm call, with a mildly hungover head somewhat of challenge, I am happy to affirm that, on this occasion, it was definitely worth it …
It’s the eve of A level Results day in England, with GCSEs following, hot on their heels. Always a tense time for so many pupils and parents but: throw in 18 months of covid-chaos in our educational establishments; toss in the word ‘ teacher assessed grades’ and stir it all up with accusations of ‘grade inflation’ and speculation of a landslide of appeals and our scandal-seeking national media look set for a bumper week of headlines.
Is it unfair to suggest that the press and politicians and ‘joe-public know-alls’ sometimes forget that pupils lie at the heart of this…
Our house is on edge, anxiously awaiting A level results for Prom-dress daughter. Like many pupils in her position, this set of grades represent hard work and talent but even more importantly a whole ton of resilience and grit. Yes, it is remarkable that so many of these pupils kept going. Kept going through: home-learning, blended learning, lockdown, unlocking, mass testing, endless isolation orders and … to cap it all an anxious assessment marathon, hastily cobbled together at the eleventh hour by an incompetent Department of Education. Let’s spare them headlines that make ill-informed shots at the validity of their grades; they deserve every success and every bit of praise their schools and families can lavish upon them. For those who don’t receive exactly the scores they hoped for … I think we know that they have learned how to pick themselves up, learned how to adapt…. I think they need to be reassured that they will be okay.
For whilst my daughter and others collecting results are typical of most examination age pupils, there is another group whose story is even less likely to be told. As we dispatched out Teacher Assessed Grades in June there were a small number of young people receiving no grades at all. And we are not alone. In July 2021, the TES in their article ‘Most teachers had GCSE evidence gaps‘ found that over 70% of teachers had pupils for whom they could not evidence a grade.
The article explores many reasons for this saddest of situations; mental health, bereavement, school refusal, the causes are numerous. There is an even more serious issue too, some of our pupils are actually lost. Lost to education and … missing. Quoted in a Times article, Anne Longfield, former children’s commissioner reported that,
” …the state had lost track of tens of thousands of pupils who had gone “off grid” during the pandemic…”
Her fears for these vulnerable young people centre upon the threats from criminal gangs and the dark cloud of county lines that casts an ever present shadow over our school communities.
Is there a place for this cohort of pupils on results day? I’d like to think that there was … because I really believe in educational care. I’d like to say ‘come back to us‘ even if you haven’t gained a single grade. We have time for you too today. We’ll find you a path. We’ll help you take that first step. We are … still here. Because 18 months of a global pandemic has re-emphasised one thing so clearly to those of us privileged to work in our high schools and colleges, pupils are not just a set of exam statistics, and a list of grades, they are complete and unique young people. And they flourish with our amazing knowledge but also our care and encouragement that helps each one to see how much they matter and what the best version of themselves might be.
So please… let’s make this week’s results days about the pupils… about all the pupils….
A day after the story of his affair with a government aides hits the media, Matt Hancock, The Health Secretary, finally resigns. For me, although allegedly not for his boss, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, this is beyond doubt the only correct decision to have made. Why? Because so many deserved so much better than Hancock.
Firstly there is the NHS, our NHS, the epitome of a national treasure, even before covid-19 overtook our lives. They surely deserve a more fitting figure-head.
In 2017, The King’s Fund in a publication, ‘What do the public think about the NHS?’ marking the 70th birthday of Bevan’s formation of a national health service, found unwavering support the system. At this time, 4 in 5 of us had, consistently held the view that ‘the NHS is crucial to British society and we must do everything we can to maintain it’. And throughout the pandemic, respect, gratitude and sheer love for the heroic efforts of our exhausted doctors, nurses and carers has known few limits.
So when the call came to ‘save lives and protect the NHS‘ is could not have been a more important one. People did make heartbreaking decisions and NHS staff did live and work through horrific times to support them. So Hancock’s breach of the very covid regulations he exhorted us to follow, is an immense and shocking betrayal. Of equal gravitas, moving forward, is the reality that he would have had absolutely zero credibility in promoting further health care messages and any necessary restrictions and this, at it worst, could endanger lives and threaten our beloved health service. It was just not good enough for our NHS; it was completely untenable for him to continue.
Secondly there are the volunteers who have supported the vaccine roll out. On Saturday morning, I munch my bran flakes watching the BBC news report from a Vaccine Drop-in Centre in York, made possible by an enthusiastic set of volunteers. Ten of thousands have responded to the call to ‘Get the Jabs Done’, given their time freely and braved the elements to push forward a Vaccination Programme, in whose glory Hancock was only too eager to bask and boast. And an amazing programme is has been.
So, how galling for them to hear that, as they shivered in the rain at a local sports centre, Hancock’s favourite university pal, was snugly housed in the Department of Health on a £1000 a day job as an ‘aide’. No-one seems able to articulate why she was there, nor what the salary covered. Was our former Health Secretary just looking to improve his kissing technique? If so, Louise Rennison’s hilarious ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’ is now on Amazon from £0.99, and would have left a few more pounds in the coffers! But seriously, if this aide has had some impact on the pandemic or national health-care, can we know what it is? Surely our wonderful army of unpaid volunteers deserve this at the very least.
Thirdly there is the public at large. Don’t we just deserve better people to lead us? Is it too much to ask that we can respect and look up to those that we vote into the positions of highest power and privilege, as opposed to watching toe-curling videos of them smooching around their offices, like teenagers behind the bike-sheds? We hear that the government agenda is about ‘re-building better’. Please can this start with some professional development on leadership and standards for the Cabinet? Those who make decisions always need ethical frameworks to work within. For our MPs, I understand that this is the ‘Ministerial Code’ and that technically Matt Hancock did not break this. But, for goodness sake Matt, to quote your own guidance, it is not just about technicalities at times like this,
“People need to not just follow the letter of the rules but follow the spirit as well and play their part…”
Matt Hancock January 2021
Finally, there is his family. Now I am not here to pass any judgement on the state of anyone’s marriage but, the fact remains that his wife and children have had to see all the images, comments and memes as well. Whatever they decide to do,they will need time to communicate, listen, repair and heal. And surely from Day One, of this mess Hancock should have gone to spend time with his children rather than spending another minute trying to hang onto his, and I quote his boss here, ‘totally f***ing useless‘ attempts to run our Health Service. They just deserve so much better…
Week 2 of the Easter Holidays; the sun shines, at times the snow even falls, but the big news is that pubs and cafes re-open for outdoor hospitality. Our politicians and leaders caution us to be careful and ‘take this next step safely’, but it is hard not to feel just a teeny bit giddy…
In our household, we all get out to meet our friends! Lunches, brunches, take-out picnics, shopping trips and alcoholic tipples. Gosh it does feel great …. even though it is all in the fresh air. Because, I had previously dismissed the notion of ‘outdoor hospitality’ as a terrible concept when it was first muted in February. How happy I am to be proved wrong! Sitting outside – I’d venture that it actually adds to the experience. But why?
Here in the bracing North of England, we are a perfect stomping ground for your ‘good muddy walk’, but are not traditionally associated with alfresco dining, so is it just the novelty? Very possibly. Re-thinking, re-invention and innovation are very much part of our 21st Century world and the phenomena of falling a little bit in love with the pandemic driven pavement culture has been seen in other urban areas too. In December 2020, in his Guardian article “Outdoor dining has been a Covid bright spot. Let’s make it permanent”, Gene Marks reports on the decision to extend outdoor permits in New York and the drive to address some issues so that this can be replicated across other US cities too. Marks recognises that eating outdoors isn’t actually new, rather, like ‘like work from home, e-commerce and virtual meetings‘ it is a trend that has been accelerated by lockdown restrictions. Additionally, it offers cities a chance to re-invent themselves as we emerge into the ‘new normal’
“As we begin a long-term recovery, we’re proud to extend and expand this effort to keep New York City the most vibrant city in the world. It’s time for a new tradition.”
City Mayor New York City
In an era where we have been drilled to ‘follow the science’, the glad tidings are that scientist too support the benefits of the outdoor culture. Countless articles suggests that being outdoors boosts our mood, our creativity, our vision and our immune system. It makes us feel better and also be better! The Huffington post, in its article ‘Here’s proof that going outside makes your healthier‘ finds that exercise feels easier and is proven to be more motivating when outside. An ‘Ask the Scientists‘ summary by Sydney Sprouse, claims that it can even help us to live longer!
A 2015 study followed 108,630 American women to determine the relationship between nature and longevity. Women who lived near parks, lawns, trees, and forests had significantly lower mortality than women living far from nature.
And it doesn’t have to be about venturing far or extreme physical challenges, bringing nature and the outdoors closer to us, via gardens plants and even views of the natural world from a window will also bring benefits. Essentially there seems to be no right or wrong way to get outside, so as it is currently our only way to start re-connecting with all the people we have missed for so long I say what better combination than fresh air and… delicious refreshments?
Yes, chinwagging over an alfresco latte, can be a touch chilly at times, but for me it’s a big thumbs up to digging out the layers and popping a pair of mittens into my handbag. Feel a bit continental! Feel the outdoor glow on those cheeks. Feel a frisson of excitement as you balance those sunglasses on your head once more. Outdoor hospitality – I am a definite convert…
Is it just me or do other people turn on the TV and just wonder ‘what on earth‘ is everyone talking about?
An erstwhile fan of the Smiths, I did, long ago, claim that Morrissey has a ‘lyric for every situation’ and the line racing around my head most Spring mornings in 2021 is that the news , “says nothing to me about my life...” Never more so than with the vaccine.
In December 2020, when Margaret Keenan became the ‘first person in the world’ to get the Covid-19 vaccination, it was a joyful and emotional moment. Not only our first real chink of light in the grim lockdown tunnel but also a fantastic symbol of humanity; that the first person to be chosen came not from the ranks of the most powerful but from the population of those most at need. After months of a devastating global pandemic, whilst it made clear sense in terms of medical resources, this was also a powerful symbol that we chose to value our grandparents and loved ones as highly as great leaders and the economy. We cared about everyone….or did we?
Several months later, a generation of jabbed adults appear to have forgotten about those still at risk, and have turned their thoughts towards: vaccine passports, foreign holidays and seats in football stadia. I am lost because, although millions of ‘stay-at-home’ adults, for whom age was an easy filter, are now wrapped in AZ or Pfizer protection, one person very lose to my heart is still waiting. My second child has not yet received her vaccination, despite being assigned to a higher priority group that anyone else in our house, and we really would like that extra layer of protection for her. Not for exotic beaches, or trips to the theatre, or nights at the pub, but just to reduce the risk of hospitalisation. This, in brief is why.
Five years ago, a severe run of asthma attacks, resulted in my daughter being hospitalised on three separate occasions. The first; a bewildering blur, introduced to the world of ‘blue lighting’ and oxygen-masking as frightened novices. The second; a complete body blow, as my head and heart had to accept that asthma is not something you cure, rather an ever present condition, that may strike at any time. The third, and most severe was a wake up call for me that, single parent or not, I needed to do better.
The third occasion included the most aggressive treatment. Due to plummeting oxygen levels, my girl had to undergo several hours of intensive treatment, attached to a mask and machine that made her incredibly ill. She would struggle and pull off the mask, vomit and beg to stop or even be allowed a short break. The nursing staff would kindly but firmly re-attach the mask and she would be made to continue. It went on all day. By 9pm the nurse arrived with the latest readings and the awful news that she would have to resume treatment for the third time that day. I drained of colour, because I would not be there; I had two other children, both under 15, ‘home alone’. The nursing staff assured me, as I left, that they would ‘look after her’.
But they did not.
Not due to lack of kindness, I hasten to add, rather lack of staffing. My daughter was left, struggling alone, ringing a bell that was never answered and vomiting into her own slippers. Eventually, some one else’s mum came to help her and clean her up. Imagine my shame!
As I listened to her account the next morning, and dropped the gruesome slippers into the garbage can, I promised her that ‘never again’ would she do this alone. If the hospital system relied upon parents sharing in the non-critical care, I accepted that it was time for me to swallow any shred of pride I had left and beg for yet more help and favours from friends and family to keep me on the ward in future. Happily, however, our fortunes were set to change. Transferred from patchy primary provision to Consultant Care, we benefitted from a return to the regular checks, we’d enjoyed when living ‘down south’. My daughter’s meds were cranked ever higher, but on the upside her asthma seemed relatively under control. And then corona virus arrived.
I watched the scenes of patients in Italy on ventilators, fighting for breath. I heard the chilling news; that covid- patients were allowed no visitors and it was like re-awakening to a former nightmare. Any promises I may have made to ‘always be there’ suddenly looked very flimsy. Ex-Hub and I discussed our daughter uprooting to move to live with him for the duration of Lockdown 1, but for various reasons decided against it. Instead she lived in her room, eating meals off a tray, working, sleeping and being alone within the family unit. In April 2020, came the truly tragic story of a 13 year old child dying alone in a UK hospital. We were stunned but deeply thankful for the subsequent decision by Matt Hancock to change these rules and permit limited visitors for covid patients. And gradually, life became a little more bearable.
Indeed we grew used to the virus. We followed the rules. We returned to school and college. We kept ourselves as safe as possible and I’d be lying if I claimed that we continued to be anxious about its threat. But the landscape has changed now. There is a vaccine. My daughter has been prioritised for it and I know she deserves this extra level of protection.
Unfortunately, as a ‘child’, a few weeks shy of 18, she has to await a GP appointment and a vial of Pfizer and although, as advised I call weekly, our practice have not been able to provide this for 5 frustrating weeks. In that time, I’ve been jabbed. My eldest child, as a medical student, has been jabbed. My son has had covid, so probably has antibodies. In our home, the only member of the household still to receive additional protection is the only person who really needs it.
So you’ll forgive me if I’m not in the debate about passports, outdoor beer gardens or elbowing my way to the front of the queue for FA cup tickets, because quite frankly I’m nowhere near future plans. Right here, right here, right now I simply ask that this ‘world beating’ vaccination programme does its primary job and protects the vulnerable… my vulnerable. Isn’t that more than enough for anyone?
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…
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…
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…