Forget the season to be jolly. There’s loads and loads to dislike about Winter.

A confession before we start this one: I actually quite like Winter. Fresh, clear mornings, the sight of snow blanketing the landscape, the relief at walking into a warm house. So, you might think maybe I’m being a bit contrary in writing about the things I hate about it. Well, let me explain what it is that irks me so much about Winter and gives us that love/hate relatiomnship.

Having to scrape frost or ice off the car in the mornings is something I really can’t stand. I should expect it really, but every time I open the front door and discover that icy covering on the windows of the car, I’m surprised. My heart sinks. It’s hard enough getting out of the house on those freezing cold, dark Winter mornings, but then to be greeted by frost or ice is just a step too far.

As soon as I see it I know that I’m going to be delayed. I can’t just get in the car and put up with the freezing temperature for the next few minutes before the usual drive to work. Oh no. Instead, it’s a race to start the engine, grab the ice scraper and then get to work at clearing my windows. Throw in the likelyhood of an icy driveway that may just see me ending up on my backside and we’ve got a pretty terrible start to the day. And then on my return to the car I’ll have to drive with a painful, icy numbness in my thumb for the next ten minutes. Not good.

Ice on the pavements and roads. That feeling of sliding uncontrollably in the car is just awful. It’s not too bad if there’s nothing around, but on one occasion, when I worked at a particularly rural school I managed to drive up a particularly narrow and steep road for a few hundred metres before getting stuck in the snow and ice. With no way forward this meant that I had to slowly reverse back down through the ice to get home a different way. Inevitably the car slid and we collided with a wall on the way down. On another occasion I fairly burst out of my front door laden with a few bags and ready to head to work only to find, as soon as I placed one foot on the front step, that the whole place was glazed with ice. I literally somersaulted onto the path, quite spectacularly. Arse over tit, we call it and bruised for days after. Bizarrely, my neighbour from two doors up emerged from her house at exactly the same and achieved exactly the same results. I think we’re both a lot more cautious in the Winter these days.

Putting the lights in the tree in the garden is possible the most dangerous thing that I’ll attempt all year. This isn’t because it’s a big tree or that the set of lights is particularly cumbersome. It’s because of the fact that we don’t have a proper ladder and that our front garden runs down to the tree on a bit of an uneven slope. Every time we put the lights up, I can sense curtains twitching, neighbours queueing up for what must be a combination of the most death-defying show they’ll see all year and the kind of act that a medieval jester would have put together in that it’s not funny, just kind of awkward.

Each year I dread the feeling of the step ladder legs sinking into the moist grass, wobbling as I get higher up the rungs and then veering dangerously sideways as I reach anywhere near the top. Many’s the time I’ve had to jump off before I fell off. In my head I’m something akin to Alex Honnold in the film Free Solo as he scales El Capitan. For anyone watching I’m probably a lot more like Stan Laurel or terrible circus clown; a lovable simpleton putting his body on the line in the name of looking slightly more masculine than usual. And that’s still just about as masculine as one of Steps.

The Winter wardrobe; particularly how I can’t manage a scarf. Some people are just stylish and the carrying off of a big coat or a thick jumper just seems to come naturally; they literally put on some of their Winter wardrobe and look like they’ve stepped out of the pages of Italian Vogue. They can trudge through the foot deep snow looking cool. They seem to almost levitate above the slush (that’s the dirty melting wet snow if slush is unfamiliar to you), their trousers immune to the water or the dirt, their cashmere overcoat unruffled by the wind. And then there’s me, either sliding about in trainers because I hate walking boots and wellies, or looking not unlike the Stay Puft man from Ghostbusters because of the sheer amount of layers I’m employing to fend off the cold. A few years ago I bought a new, expensive Winter coat and then almost immediately ripped the lining by one of the armholes, meaning that I couldn’t even put it on stylishly, preferring instead to choose the wrong hole almost every time and end up with one arm just stuck in the coat somewhere.

I’m a disaster when it comes to scarves though. Although it never puts me off buying them. Even this morning I made the latest in a long linesof attempts to wear a particular scarf that I must have bought in a sale a couple of years ago. It’s a bit of a Moddish affair and the kind of thing I’d expect Paul Weller or one of The Kinks to look fabulous in. Not me though. I still can’t decide how to wear it as it just seems about a foot too long. Thus, in my head I’m going to look great in it, but in reality I’ll stand in front of the mirror for 5 minutes trying different ways of wearing it before folding it roughly and returning it to the draw. I’ll wear a football scarf instead and just ruin whatever look it was that I was going for!

The weather can’t make up its mind. Time was, when I was much younger and lived in much more northern climes, that Winter meant snow. Nowadays, this is no longer the case. The sky tells lies. Take today, for instance. The weather forecast promised snow. Promised it! Sure enough the clouds arrived bang on time. It was freezing cold too. And then the rain started, accompanied by gale force winds and we were in the grip of another of our recent weather additions: one of those storms that the Met Office insist on giving stupid names to. And that’s the way of Winter these days; less of the kind of wonderful snowy landscapes that would block the doors when I was younger and more filthy dirty rain and horrible winds, designed to soak you to the skin and make it impossible to walk around the place! All of them given daft names – the last one was called Arwen and the one throwing us around like rag dolls today has the moniker Barras. I mean, who calls their new born baby Barra? Apart from anything else, you’re missing a trick in not adding a bit and christening it Badass, surely?

Linked to the weather is my sympathy for our PE staff at this time of year. Now I get that it’s all swings and roundabouts with PE teaching in terms of weather. I can’t help but feel envious when it’s a scorching hot summer’s day and they’re out on the fields. But in this weather, even a cold hearted old cynic like myself can’t fail but to feel a bit sorry for them. That is, sorry for them with a smug grin on my face as I sit in a lovely, modern heated classroom. Most mornings though, as I’m getting into my classroom, setting up for the first lesson of the day, PE staff are trudging out to the fields, loaded down with bags of footballs, poles and other kit like sporty beasts of burden. Then they’ll wander around said field, marking out areas with poles and cones before trudging back in soaked to the bone. And this is before they’ve actually taught a lesson. Do they ever get dry on these days? Is the only place where they’re not either frozen or soaked, their home? Is work just like one Arctic expedition after another for these poor souls? I love sport, but having to go through that on a daily basis just isn’t worth it.

This is the route to the fields for PE lessons. Runs right past my classroom window!

Sadly though, the weather isn’t something that I can avoid that much during Winter. As a volunteer football coach, I get to sample the sensation of being both frozen and soaked for what feel like endless hours, pretty much every Sunday in Winter (and Autumn…and Spring…and some of Summer; I mean we do live in England).

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, right? A time for relaxing and preparing oneself for the demands of the coming week. And yet, for most of the year I’m up not long after 7am in order to start preparing for a game. Having spent some of Saturday afternoon loading the car with the equipment we’ll need, I’ll rush my breakfast on the Sunday in order to be at our pitch – which is generally a mud bath at this time of year – setting up for around 8.40. Often, in Winter it’s either freezing cold, pouring with rain or your caught in the midst of some ridiculously high winds. Often, it’s all three at once. This will mean that by about 8.50 I’m either soaked through or have pretty much lost all feeling in my hands and toes, making jobs like putting nets onto goal frames incredibly difficult. Sometimes, when I’m really lucky, I might not be able to find any nets or corner flags – on one occasion I forgot the matchball – or there might not be enough spare kit to go around for the lads who’ve only just joined the club meaning I get to run around the place searching stuff out, which is all made infinitely better by driving rain, sleet or ankle deep mud that our winters inevitably bring.

After that I get to stand on the touchline coaching my way through the game, quite possibly losing my voice in the process, while attempting to stay warm now that I’ve thrown in the towel in the battle against the rain! (See below for some images of our pitch on a recent rainy, winter weekend)

Even when I get home, it’s not over. While the rest of the family can get inside and start getting warm, I’ll still have to unpack the car and load all of the gear back into the sheds, all while saying a silent prayer that it will have dried out in time for training a few days later. Then, I’ll have to sit on our wet step and take off my muddy boots, as well as my soaking wet socks and probably a couple of wet upper layers before I can even go in the house! Yep, you’ve got to love Winter!

So there you have it. While Winter is the season of sledging, building snowmen (snowpeople?), Christmas and hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire, there’s also loads to dislike about it. Roll on Summer where I can be far too hot one minute ad then fed up of the rain the next!

Oh, and by the way, remember to tune in next week, when in the name of blogging and content, I’ll be writing about the many things I love about this very season!

Teaching: The Worst Things About Christmas Half Term

Recently, I wrote an article about the fact that this time of year is nothing short of arduous and painful for us teachers. I know it’s difficult for a lot of people at this time of year, but having done other jobs in my time, I’d definitely say it’s tougher than most places in education. I haven’t worked down a pit or anything, but I’d hope you take my point. With this point in mind, I got to thinking about the kind of things I dislike the most about my job at this time of year. And so, in no particular order and with more than a hint of sarcasm and tongue firmly tucked in cheek, here you go!

The constant question – “Can we just watch a movie?” For starters, we call them films where I’m from, so no, we can’t. However, from week 1 right the way up until the last week before Christmas, at least one of your classes will think that the time is just right for watching a film. They’ll cite the number of days until Christmas, the terrible weather and tout the blatant lie that all the other classes are watching films…anything that might just make you budge. And the cherry on top of this particular cake is that when you finally do put on a DVD – on the last day, bosses – your students will generally sit and talk through it! Well my wonderful students, I’m afraid you’ve just met DVD Scrooge and instead we’ll be doing that far more traditional English Christmas half term activity of writing lots and reading a bit. Bah humbug indeed!

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

The other popular question – simply because the first question wasn’t annoying enough, students will then turn to another, genuinely more offensive question. And all in the name of Christmas. And it’ll often be the first thing they ask as they walk through the door. In fact, sometimes, as a Christmas treat, they might ask you it before lesson as you’re passing on a corridor. The question? ‘Are we doing anything fun today?’ Now there are several levels of offensiveness to this question. Firstly, is there a veiled accusation here that our lessons aren’t fun? Task-wise, I might take their point here at times. Maybe writing an analysis of how a writer creates tension isn’t that much fun in a world where we have the internet, X-Box, Love Island and erm…fidget spinners (look it’s spinning on my finger…), but we’re in an English class; what did you expect? Secondly, I try to run a relaxed ship. I like a little bit of a lighter atmosphere and a bit of a joke now and again (a bit of ‘daft carry on’ we’d call it where I’m from), so the suggestion that my lessons aren’t fun is actually a personal affront. Or maybe I’m just not that entertaining? *Dismisses such a ridiculous notion with a smug little chuckle and moves on.* And of course there’s the fact that the study of English has been pretty much a constant in my life. It was an important GCSE for me, then an A-Level, then I did it as my degree! Fun? Bloody fun? Bollocks to fun, pal. Appreciate my expertise! Feel my love for the subject! Then get your 18th analysis of the half term written up! And look forward to re-writing it, in PURPLE PEN no less once it’s marked and I’ve demanded improvements! Then, if you’re really lucky, you’ll get to write a diary entry from the point of view of one of the characters in the play we’ve been studying! Don’t worry though, I might just dress up as a clown and do some juggling for you if the fun’s really getting ramped up as well. (I won’t. Ever.)

Christmas Cards – it’s not that I don’t love getting them; I do. I think it’s a lovely traditional gesture and I always enjoy taking them home to put up round the house. However, I am utterly rotten at remembering to write my own and send them/bring them in to school to give out. Cue a cringeworthy few moments every time I get one while I meekly explain that I keep meaning to write mine, but I’m an utter shambles of a man. Cue also me rushing around on the final morning of the half term delivering my cards – if I’ve remembered to get them out, write them up and then put them in my bag – like some kind of apologetic, pathetic Christmas loser. Oh, the yearly shame!

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

The final lessons before the Christmas break – it’s not the lessons themselves. They’re fine. Granted, I’m practically on my knees by this point, exhausted and steeling myself for finishing work and heading home to face the onslaught of pre-Christmas jobs that will inevitably only get finished some time mid morning on the 25th. No, it’s the fact that even though I’ve finally relented on the film question, my classes are still not satisfied with such wonderful Christmas benevolence. And why? Because my colleagues – God bless them, every one of them (to paraphrase Dickens) – have brought in snacks – snacks I tell you! – and are holding some kind of bloody party in their rooms! Well sorry kids, but ‘The Ghost of that Shit Christmas When All You Got Was Socks and Pants’ here didn’t get that memo. You know the drill…altogether now…Bah Humbug!

Christmas Jumper Day – or as I see it, the chance to look like a tw*t for a full day. That might not be everybody, by the way. Some people can look quite cool in their Christmas jumpers. Allegedly.

Can you turn the heating on?/It’s so cold! Another question that makes my internal, scarcely dormant volcano start to rumble. Not a day goes by at this time of year when I don’t have to go through my early morning in-school routine with a class. And they’re always told that the very first thing I do when I unlock the door and come into class is to put the heating on. If only they could remember. They also always fail to notice that the heating is actually on, despite the lit up display which again, is pointed out to them every day. Come in at 7.45am kids, I’ll allow my room to demonstrate cold for you! As for the fact that it’s cold; of course it’s cold. We live in northern England and our school is on the top of a great big hill; of course it’s cold!

So there you have it. The bane of my life at this time of year. Just as I’m feeling like I could sleep for a week, tweens and teens are busily digging the same old ways out in order to make all of our teaching lives just that tiny bit more stressful. Christmas can’t come soon enough!

I hope you enjoyed the blog and if you have any irritations at this time of your work year, whether you’re a teacher or not, feel free to let me know in the comments.

I’ll end on a big thankyou to the friends who got in touch to remind me of some of their own personal lowlights of teaching at this time of year in order to help with this blog. It’s late in the year, I’m tired and was flagging in the ideas department. Not for the first time the English Department at our school helped me out. I work with some truly wonderful people (although they always forget to bring me cakes and biscuits when they’ve been left in the staffroom as a reward for our hard work), so once again, cheers!

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