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!!

The poorly pet …

Sunday 5 September 2021

It’s the start of the August Bank Holiday weekend, when an early tap at my bedroom door heralds the arrival of a worried Small Boy,

Mum, something is wrong with Boris…

Boris is Small Boy’s 18 month old leopard gecko. And this morning, he has a cloudy eye, which is, Google informs us, both a common problem for shedding reptiles and one that requires immediate attention. Even if it didn’t, I can tell that Small Boy is already agitated and so I leap out of bed to put a plan into action. Unfortunately for us …it is a Sunday!

Our vet does open on this non-standard working day … but only for one hour. We hit the phones promptly at 10, and over the next 60 minutes, call and leave message after message but, alas, fail to get through. At 11:01 am, we get the ‘surgery closed’ message but are provided with an ‘out of hours’ number. We call this but are told that it is ‘not available’ and are sent instead to the city wide emergency pet number. Third time lucky? Happily it is, and we find ourselves speaking to a helpful receptionist who recommends a video call which we book for that afternoon.

I stop to take stock of the day. It is now 11:30 am and, so far, all I have done is try to make phone calls and now am essentially going nowhere until I’ve zoomed with a gecko-vet at 2!  The rest of the house begin to emerge into the day,

What time are we heading into town mum?“,  smiles my eldest as she heads sleepily for the shower

Ooh … now that we are all back together, shall we go out for my ‘exam results’ meal?” call Prom-dress daughter from her room

I’m also wondering where I fit a few work tasks in, what to do about some rapidly escalating Monday lunch plans and when on earth we are going to find some new school shoes for Small Boy’s size 12 feet in time for the start of the new term on Thursday.

One day back from my week away and I feel frazzled with demands, restrictions and everyone else’s priorities. I reach for my trusty run shoes because I need to clear my head.

Back in half an hour!

I shout over my shoulder as I head for the door, knowing that a trio of open mouths will be watching my departure.

My run; my salvation. The steady steps, the fresh air, the space…the quiet are all just the tonic for a brain that needs to think and re-plan. At the centre of it all; Small Boy and Boris. Now I am not an animal person but I understand why my son is. He may be messy, he may be clumsy, he may be hopeless with money but putting all of these minor defects into the shade is his big heart. He is one of the nicest people I know and his care and kindness envelop his family, his friends… and his little gecko. He was designed for a pet and in that moment, amidst all of the other clutter in our weekend, getting Boris the attention my son wants him to have becomes my main mission. I sit on a bench about a mile from home and send a text to pull out of the Monday lunch plans. Then, in my mind, Sunday moves to Monday, any shopping moves online  and … problem solved. I feel relieved. I feel happy. I feel that our weekend has finally got its priorities in order.

Back home, I announce that we shall be spending Monday ‘in town’ and ‘celebrating exam results’ and feel back in charge.  Though it proves to be far from simple!

Small Boy and I attend our video call, whereupon the vet advises that Boris is seen immediately and dispatches us to the emergency vet hospital, warning of a 3/4 hour wait.

“Mum, it says they charge £172.75 for a consultation!”  gulps a shocked Small Boy, as we speed along the road

Don’t you worry, ” I trill, hoping my rather shaky falsetto sounds more convincing than I feel. “At times like this, we just forget the cost and stick it on the credit card!”

But we never get as far as a payment…

We sit, like a couple of stake-out cops, in the crowded car park with snack, kindles, and Boris scrabbling about in his tupperware travel-home with holes in the lid. After 90 minutes, a nurse appears … with a lead! She does a visible double take as we offer our small box and scurries off with Boris, looking very pensive. Five minutes later she is back, apologetically explaining that there is no ‘exotic pet’ specialist available and we head home, unseen and still unsure; me rather forlorn and my son pretty angry.

Next morning we try our vet again, but it is Bank Holiday Monday and no-one picks up; so we email instead, attaching photos. On Tuesday, with nothing in the email inbox, we phone once more and do finally get through and fix an appointment. We now just have to career through Manchester’s roadworks and diversions to reach our elusive goal… our little lizard, at long, long last, is examined by an expert and my son looks as if the weight of the world has been lifted from his shoulders … phew!

And now Boris has eye drops twice daily and we hope he improves soon, otherwise we are back again and things will be serious for the little guy. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it and … hey at least he has Small Boy and I am not sure a gecko could ask for a better owner!

So one little pet certainly took up a lot of time and a fair bit of money! But it was definitely worth every second and dime because, remembering that the people (and animals) in our lives more important that much of the other stuff we complicate our days with is a pretty fantastic thing. Sometimes, the very weeks that don’t quite go to plan are the ones that help you to see what really matters ….

New arrival…

Monday 17 February 2020

It’s half term week. What better feeling for a holiday than the sensation of sand between your toes? Except in our case the gritty granules on my kitchen floor come not from a dreamy white Caribbean beach but from the new vivarium in Small Boy’s room … as, his birthday present, Boris the Gecko arrives!

It’s not our first experience of the world of pets. Small Boy, in particular, absolutely loves animals. Sadly for him, I do not and as I am the only bill paying adult in the house, his dreams of owning a dog are definitely on hold until he owns his own place! I do feel guilty about it. Single parent guilt – the fear that despite every effort and sacrifice, your kids will miss out and pay the price for the marital breakdown – and so smaller animals have been our compromise. We began with gerbils, just a few months after my Ex left. Then came the guinea pig and Prom-dress daughter’s fish. Boris, however, is our first reptile.

We battle the gecko, used to warm climates of the world, and all his equipment home in the middle of Storm Dennis! Upon arrival, Small Boy starts pacing about like a nervous new father, avidly reading books and leaflets on gecko care and watching numerous youtube clips on each and every procedure. Nonetheless we soon have the vivarium set up and just face the challenge of food. Gecko’s eat live insects! The pet shop have given us a tub of crickets and a pair of plastic tweezers. How difficult can it be? Pretty darned tricky it turns out. As we attempt to lift any out, the pesky little creatures leap sky high from the tub and onto Small’s Boys bedroom floor. We make chase with our tweezers but one or two do escape to freedom before we get any into the vivarium itself. It’s a hilarious and chaotic scene but I am sure we will improve!

By contrast the gecko looks very relaxed moving around his new home. I leave my son, dusting insects with calcium, viewing online tutorials on feeding techniques and watching over his new arrival with wonderful care and concern. Welcome to the family Boris!

Family meetings…

Sunday 12 January 2020

Small Boy slides into the kitchen, his face alight with excitement…and hope?

“Mum, can I have a corn snake for my birthday?

Well that’s a conversation stopper… at least for a moment! But we are all there. It is Sunday after all, the one day of the week when my culinary skills extend to breakfast. Prom-dress daughter breaks the silence with a simple ‘Whaaaat?’ My eldest starts Google-ing facts about corn snakes and their living habits. Small Boy waves pictures of ‘cute‘ snakes at us. I take a swig of my tea (wondering, not for the first time, why I thought Dry January was such a good idea) and soon something resembling a ‘family meeting’ is in full flow. But I think there may be a family out there that needs a meeting even more than we do today…

Although only one full week in, world events have seen 2020 explode into the annals. Australia continues to battle bush fires that have devastated the ecosystem on a terrifying scale. Tension between the USA and Iran, following the death of General Qasem Soleimani, has been intense and, at its height, the press did debate the likelihood of a third world war. In the UK however, the story that has dominated the news reels has been the decision of Harry and Meghan to ‘step back’ from their roles a senior members of the British royal family.

I am not a major ‘royalist’ but I do have a theory on the national fascination with The Windsors. To my mind, it stems from them being family. They do things that our familes do: they marry, they have babies, they get their first jobs, they celebrate landmark birthdays. The difference is that they do much of it publicly, with the ceremonial glamour and style that wealth and privilege afford. And in this light they become a family we all watch, discuss and debate (and because we all understand families, we all have something to say.) Is it a step to far to suggest that, for centuries, we have had our very own brand of the Kardashians in residence at Buckingham Palace?

More seriously, if we look back to the abdication of Edward 7th, less than 100 years ago, we see how rapidly the royal family have since adapted, reflecting the changing views of society on the family and other issues. Their role, in signalling acceptance of today’s more varied family unit is a really important one for me. The Queen, who has (nominally) ruled our land for 67 years, should also be admired for allowing the younger royals freedom to branch out and work on issue close to their own hearts. Princess Dianna shaking hands with an AIDS patient in the 1980s, Prince Harry more recently speaking out on mental health, both illustrate the power of the younger generation to challenge prejudice, to remove stigma and to make progress. Elizabeth 2nd is a true matriarch and I am sure she will be able to steer the family through their current dilemma, (which appears to be, an admittedly complex twist, on the age old problem of one son deciding that he doesn’t want to ‘join the family business’). In her long reign, the Queen must have dealt with far greater quandaries.

Could she spare some advice for me on the issue of the corn snake I wonder? My eldest announces that they ‘eat mice’. Prom-dress Daughter says ‘no way!’ I venture to ask if ‘any reptiles are vegetarians?’ Small Boy agrees to look into it and we head off to make some enquiries about non-mice-eating pets at the local pet store….