Lockdown 2 – the sequel no one wanted!

As the UK enters its second period of lockdown due to a disturbing rise in numbers of cases of Covid-19, I’ve found that there’s a hell of a lot to think about. And rather than throw myself into a world of sleepless nights, I thought I’d write about the current situation.

I spent the first lockdown isolating because of a couple of underlying health conditions which marked me out as vulnerable. This wasn’t something I was particularly comfortable with, but I had to swallow my pride and live with it. I’ve always thought of myself as fit, healthy and strong so the label ‘vulnerable’ doesn’t sit well with me. They’ll be labelling me as ‘not altogether that butch after all’ next! Anyway, in the end I was away from work – as a teacher – for 6 months.

This time around lockdown seems distinctly different and it makes me feel more than a little scared. The one major difference, for me personally, is that I will be spending this period of lockdown at work. This alone is responsible for a great deal of lockdown stress! Schools aren’t closing and whatever our views on that, it makes me anxious about coming in to work, where before Covid I looked forward to almost every day and almost very minute spent in the building.

Since September though, I’ve felt safe and largely looked after at work. My employer – being a school – had done their homework, so to speak. A risk assessment was prepared for myself and any other vulnerable members of staff who would be returning to work, so I was familiar with the way things would be before I had even entered the building. And I’d had a couple of ‘how are you’ type catch up calls and Teams meetings too.

We’re actively guarding against the virus. We wear masks, we wipe surfaces down before and after use, we have hand sanitiser readily available, we are socially distant where possible, we keep the kids in year group bubbles and a common sense approach has been employed across the board. I’ve felt safe. And you’d think that’d be the case across the board with schools, but I’ve heard tales of places where such protocols are simply not followed.

Things are different now though. It feels far more like the situation we encountered in March with rising positive cases, rising death rates and a general sense of confusion that is frankly quite frightening once again. And let’s face it, we shouldn’t still be confused about something that’s been around for such a long time. It’s not the fault of my place of work, but now, every day it’s a case of gritting my teeth and getting on with it in the face of quite a bit of trepidation. It’s practically the only place where I mix with people and although in theory we’re safe, it’s beginning to feel like keeping schools open might not be such a great idea.

Away from work though, it feels like a general sense of boredom and, dare I say it, a sense of entitlement is beginning to rule people’s thinking. You could feel it towards the end of the first lockdown. People had had enough of the same four walls and unfortunately it started to manifest itself in a lot of stupid behaviour.

Despite the one way systems in shops, the obvious need to wear a mask and the constant knowledge of what social distancing was, people decided that there was no need for any of it anymore. In the town where we live, as bars began to open again people began to congregate in ridiculous numbers both inside and outside of the premises. The message seemed to be ‘sod the virus, I haven’t been tanked up in a public place in far too long’. And while I’m no prude, it all just seems incredibly selfish. Is an afternoon drinking really worth it? The ignorance of people that can recognise what two metres looks like for only a certain amount of time is quite something. And they’re attitude to the one metre+ rule is just staggering. Rather than stand a decent distance away from someone or maybe just refrain from going out for ten pints, it just seems to have become easier to blame semantics and say that you can’t imagine what one metre+ looks like because it’s not an actual measurement.

As we settle into Lockdown 2 I fear that the attitude will continue. I wonder if people will reject the lockdown for the simple fact that it has an end date. I mean, what’s the point for four weeks, right? If you listen carefully you could probably hear someone saying it right now. I can imagine people doing four weeks very much on their own terms; like only locking down properly until the boredom sets in.

Then there’s the approach of the festive season – which isn’t actually that close at all. I feel certain that there will be a raft of people who decide that their pre-Christmas socialising is far too important to give up, even though we should be out of lockdown in time for it to commence at the right time anyway. Any excuse for a barbecue in the garden with your friends though, especially when your precious human rights have been infringed for so long! And anyway, you’re outside so it’s all OK!

It’s the thinking of simpletons and it worries me that I could be even more vulnerable to the virus because of this type of selfishness.

The second spike of the virus means that things that are dear to us all will continue to be out of reach too. Gigs, football, theatre to name but a few; they’re all out of reach. Then there’s loved ones. I haven’t seen my parents (or my sister for that matter) since December of last year. I don’t feel that I can visit as they’re both extremely vulnerable and with three of us in my immediate family mixing with lots of people in schools every week, going to see them would be utter stupidity. It hurts not seeing them and it hurts them too. But my parents are sensible enough to say that we shouldn’t visit, even just to stand in the garden and I’ll be respecting their wishes. But at the back of my mind, as things continue to get worse, I do genuinely wonder if I’ll ever see them again. They live over 100 miles away, so even going round to stand in the garden is a bit of a trek. It’s a thought too horrible to dwell on, but it’s the kind of thing that makes me even more angry at those who are determined to just carry on as normal and either deny that this thing exists or make excuses about the number of deaths.

Recent reports of a new strain of the virus make things worse and yet there are still people – and there in fairly large numbers – who happily deny its existence. There’s not a lot I can say about that that’s probably not already been said or that would be original, but it’s a frightening thought. During the first lockdown I overheard a conversation between two neighbours in their gardens blaming Bill Gates – apparently as it was his fault he “needed stabbing” – and was just astonished. These people are real! At one point they even blamed Brexit and even though I heard the explanation I couldn’t really work out what they meant. I imagine the idea of a second lockdown is being swiftly rejected by them and in fact a couple of days into it they were in their garden, mixing with another member of the family not in their bubble, letting off fireworks!

The long and short of this story is that Coronavirus isn’t going away. We’re not controlling it, we’re not coping with it and in fact, some people seem to be totally ignoring it. At the start of it all I laughed out loud at people panic buying toilet rolls, before being left without a smile when I was sent home from work as I was too vulnerable to be there and was subsequently away for 6 months. Now, as we get back to lockdown, there’s nothing about this virus that can make me smile.

My Lockdown Diary – Part 2

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Here in the UK we were put into a state of lockdown indefinitely on 23rd March. Now, some weeks later and firmly into April, it’s been a very strange time. For some, everything has changed, while sadly for others nothing seems to have changed at all.

For me personally it’s been a very curious time. I was initially sent away from work and put into self isolation on 17th March and so had some time to myself before the majority of the country was affected. Life at that point seemed to be going on as if there was no prospect of a pandemic. As I went out for a socially distant walk there was traffic everywhere (well, on the roads anyway) and people were not avoiding each other like they would be in the weeks to come. Having been isolated because of my vulnerability to the virus, I was keeping my distance from the off.

So how’s life looking a few of weeks on? Well, for the most part people are keeping their distance. But my part of the UK looks very different for all sorts of reasons.

With lockdown being enforced people seem to be following the daily exercise guidance like it’s an order. We certainly are. But it’s immediately noticeable, even if you just look out of the window, how many people are out and about walking, jogging, cycling and the like. In truth, it’s a lovely site. Couples out walking, families – together at last now that work constraints have been taken away – are running, cycling and just playing together. We live right next to playing fields and I’ve rarely seen them busier. And that’s not to say that we have hundreds of people congregating in any kind of dangerous way. The fields are huge and can easily accommodate a steady stream of people and leave them able to keep a responsible social distance. Despite the fearful whiff of death and illness, people have come out fighting and life is flourishing.

I’ve seen nothing particularly different in terms of exercise though and I’m very hopeful that within the next three weeks I might see someone on a penny farthing cruising down our road or maybe even a socially distant yoga or tai chi class on the playing fields next door.

The same praise can’t be levelled at what I’ve noticed on the roads, where a general lessening of traffic has led many to believe that they’re budding Lewis Hamiltons. And I don’t mean that they’re going out with braids in their hair and wearing shit clothes. For now it seems that the 30 mile an hour limit is a thing of the past. And I understand that in the real world there are few of us who actually stick to such a slow speed. Now though, young men – and it genuinely appears to be largely them – are hurtling around like they’re at Silverstone. Maybe it’s because of the boredom elsewhere, but I doubt it. It’s certainly a worrying development. Especially when you’re out for a walk these days, what with all the crossing over roads in order to avoid each other.

For some it seems that they’re flying around the place with no destination either. The far more empty roads have seemingly turned into the Nurburgring and people are out, ignoring the lines and hurtling round bends with little or no warning. The only thing missing seems to be their overalls. Certainly there are more than enough helmets. It appears to be a genuine deliberate choice – I can’t go out, so I’ll jump in the car and fly around like a complete idiot for a while. We’ve noticed a couple of cars just cruising around the place, revving engines and staring at people. Certainly, the amount of Vauxhall Corsas with over-sized exhausts on the road is very much out of proportion nowadays. Either Morley’s just a strange place or lads are incredibly bored and just not very creative. It could well be both. It’s certainly been a bizarre thing to observe though.

Another lockdown observation has to be the amount of online sales. I suppose it’s quite a sad thing really, given that most shops are closed and people are losing their jobs. It will most likely see the end of some shops altogether. But the amount of sales is incredible. And it might leave some people in a total conundrum. There are things I genuinely want, as well as stuff I’d like because they’re reduced in sales – trainers mainly. But then the idea of something being delivered has started to worry me. There’s a palpable sense of paranoia about these days. Understandably really. While you’re crossing the road when anybody comes within a hundred yards of you you’re not going to want to accept a parcel on the doorstep. I almost followed through recently when there was a knock on the door and was terrified going to answer it! It was Amazon and the bloke had left our parcel – something for the wife from work – on the doorstep and was already halfway down the drive. He simply stated our surname as a question and was off like a shot when I confirmed.

Wherever you look though, there’s an online sale. For someone who likes the idea of getting ‘stuff’ it’s ridiculously tempting. As a result of a Coronvirus programme and a wife with a propensity to worry over much, we’ve recently started to wash the shopping as it comes into the house and are quarantining the things that we don’t immediately need to use and the idea of handling a parcel, with literally no idea where it’s come from is terrifying. So maybe for now there’ll be no exploiting the online sales.

Something that’s started to worry me while continuing to appear ridiculous is television. What if it runs out? What if there are no more programmes because new shows have stopped being made? I totally get the availability of boxsets, downloads etc, but what happens when it’s new series time and it’s just not been made yet? One of our favourite shows is The Walking Dead and their recent season finale had to be suspended when post production work couldn’t be carried out in lockdown. So, we’re running out of telly! It’s not just a possibility; it’s actually happening!

We’ve needed to call Sky in order to re-arrange our package and the fact is you can’t call Sky. We want to re-negotiate (Oooh, my favourite call to make!) but we can’t because they haven’t got enough people working to actually deal with these calls. More proof, if it was needed, that telly could actually be endangered. And while it’s not the most pressing concern at this time, it’s still completely unexpected and a bit of a worry.

I’ve managed to spend quite a bit of my lockdown time in the garden. There’s plenty of room and a lot of jobs that needed doing, which is a good job given the amount of time we all have on our hands. One morning was spent painting the fence panels on one side of the garden. I roped my ten-year-old into this one, prompting lots of comments about “hard work” from a boy who so far in life has been fairly pampered.

Next up was turning over the soil in the flower beds; a job that literally never gets done because despite being fairly deep into middle age I’m still not a full convert to gardening. There are limits and things like digging go beyond my boundaries. But, needs must, so fork in hand – garden one, not tea one – I spent a good half an hour digging and turning the land over. I’m assured it’ll create better conditions for plants, but the bigger bonus was that I got to spend half and hour in the sun.

Since then I’ve trimmed shrubs, weeded heavily overgrown areas, regularly filled up the bird feeders, painted both sheds and cut the lawns a few times – which is a few times more than usual at this time of year. As my time at home continues so will my work in the garden. I love being out in the fresh air anyway, so being forced out there is kind of a bonus. Pots can be cleared out and cleaned up, the garden furniture will get oiled and the often neglected area around the side of our house which is home to the bins is in need of a real tidy up. So almost a summer’s worth of outdoor jobs to do, but lots of springtime to get it done!

The final thing that has been very noticeable during the last few weeks of lockdown has also been garden related. It’s a wonderful thing and I hope it’s going on in your lives too. There are noticeably more birds around. Very noticeably. We have a few birdfeeders on the tree at the back of our garden and traffic has very definitely increased. Sadly, we haven’t had our woodpecker back, but we’ve had goldfinches, robins, blue tits, great tits and long-tailed tits as well as the usual blackbirds, wood pigeons, collared doves, magpies and sparrows. There are also at least a couple that we just can’t identify and it’s genuinely a lot busier at the end of our garden. It can’t be a coincidence that things are a great deal quieter in the surrounding area and it’s certainly given me a bit of a lift when everything feels a little bit flat. It’s nothing dramatic, nothing life-changing, but the fact that I can sit and watch the birds getting bolder and bolder around our garden and feeling safe enough to be exploring the patio is definitely a good thing.

The other day, as I stood doing the dishes I watched as a robin approached. It flitted around the place getting gradually ever closer. Within seconds it was perched on a chair right underneath the window, just staring at me. A moment of complete peace among the chaos. Just what I needed.

So far lockdown has been a very strange time. We’re living in fear, definitely, but something has changed societally. Life is, in some ways, a lot calmer and people are adapting to suit their surroundings and situations. With at least three more weeks of this it’ll be interesting to see how things develop.

 

PE with Joe – how I found out that where there’s a Wicks, there’s a way.

It seems cynical to say, but this whole Coronavirus lockdown thing has allowed me to start getting fit. And when I say fit, I mean really fit. I was fit before…for a man in my middle years anyway, but now I’m beginning to feel like some kind of middle aged superhuman! OK, that might be me getting a little bit carried away, but I’m feeling good.

It started as a reaction to the virus. As someone who is classed as being vulnerable to it, I decided early on that in order to combat the risks I’d have to stay fit. So I wasn’t going to be sitting around watching films and reading books, which had been the kind of situation I’d dreamed of for years. No, I was going to maximise my daily government sanctioned exercise window and then do as much as I possibly could around the house to be as healthy as I could be. The fitter I was, the more strength I’d have to fight whatever was going to get thrown at me.

When UK schools closed down I was subsequently given a fantastic fitness opportunity. This was the point where, with the focus on home-schooling, lots of people starting volunteering services and sharing ideas. And this was when Joe Wicks stepped into my life and began to get me and my family fitter than we’d been in years!

I was aware of Mr. Wicks before this time and had decided that he simply wasn’t for me. I have to admit that this was based largely on his appearance. As a middle aged man with a little bit of a pot belly, I found myself feeling secretly jealous of this newcomer who looked like he’d been carved out of rock and dipped in hair. As well as this, I decided that his kind of fitness simply wasn’t my thing. As a footballer and runner I was more into simply pushing myself to the limits and ending up feeling physically sick than what I saw as glorified dancing.

But then, a few years ago now I tried yoga and loved it. And so, when Joe announced that at 9am every day of lockdown he’d be putting on a half hour PE class for the nation I thought we’d give it a go. It wasn’t quite as instant a decision as that. In fact at first I just thought, ‘no way’. But then, through a combination of chatting about it with my wife and considering the fact that it’d be a way of keeping the kids busy for a while, I thought that we could at least give it a go. Now, weeks later, I’ve not missed one day since it started!

The workouts have been a pleasant surprise. Apart from some ill-fitting lycra gear – which through football and running, I already had – and a yoga mat, there’s been no need for equipment. No weights, no resistance bands, and no other bits of stuff that I actually don’t know the name of. In hindsight, I don’t know what I was imagining! I do know that I can’t be a pleasant sight however. I’m a shade short of 6ft tall and built like a telegraph pole, so clingy gym gear isn’t exactly flattering. But Joe’s enthusiasm has been the perfect counter to my paranoia!

I didn’t realise that it’d be as difficult as I found it at first. After that first day I ached in places that were unexpected to say the least. Who knew that your bum could hurt so much just by doing aerobic type stuff? And given that I’d lifted no weights, how come my arms and shoulders felt so weak all of a sudden? Or weaker than normal; it’s all relative!

What I do know is that I’m thoroughly enjoying my appointment with Joe every day. It’s tough work and gets a sweat on, but it’s a tonne of fun too. As I said, it’s difficult but as time passes I’m finding that my body doesn’t hurt so much anymore. And whatever the aches and pains I’m there every day looking for more. There’s nothing too complicated and it all comes in bursts of 30 seconds before a short rest and time for a drink of water, then we’re ready to move on to the next exercise.

He has us doing things like squats and push ups fairly regularly. But there are also things like ‘Spiderman’ where we lunge to one side and fire out our imaginary webs before switching swiftly to the other side. My ten-year-old son loves doing this one and joins in doing the web sound effects with Joe. I’m also doing a sound effect; it’s called the wheeze. We also do ‘Climb The Mountain’ where you’re essentially in a plank position but running your knees up towards your chest. And then there’s ‘Bunny Hops’ where we…well, we hop like a bunny (ears included), as well as ‘Joeys’ which involve us jumping from side to side, kangaroo style protecting the baby in our pouch. I’d advise you not to try to imagine me doing these things by the way as I fear that even the imagined sight could burn your eyes. But I can tell you that it’s loads of fun and you can certainly feel the benefit.

The whole thing has allowed for a little bit of father son bonding too. Me and my son both do the class and as such, we’ve both not missed one yet. We spur each other on and it’s something that we now have in common; something else to talk about other than just football! That said, as soon as the workout is over we’re off outside for a game of football as a warm-down! Old habits die hard. It’s been nice to talk aches and pains with my son though and it feels like we’ve got a little bit more in common as a result.

The days are never the same. We do a range of different exercise or it might be a variation where we do ten exercises before a break followed by the same ten after. Other times, we do twenty different exercises over the course of the half hour. No two days are ever the same though, which is definitely a good thing and it keeps an old dog like me on my toes and stops me from using boredom as any kind of excuse for missing a day.

Introducing music was for me, a bit of a nightmare. For a start, let’s just say that Joe’s musical taste doesn’t have anything in common with mine. But then, apart from the sheer trauma of listening to Dua Lipa, I found it completely off-putting. I was finding that I couldn’t hear the 5 second countdown towards the end of each exercise and believe me, I needed to be able to hear that! The relief of knowing that I only had 5 seconds to go until having a short rest was palpable. Having Joe shouting over someone like George Ezra meant that I now had nothing to cling onto!  But he’s decided not to use music every day and as such this adds a different level of variation.

Next came Fancy Dress Friday, which needless to say is not my bag! I hate dressing up simply because a lack of confidence tells me that I look an even bigger idiot when I’m dressed as a superhero or say – and this actually happened – Freddie from Scooby Doo. Joe seemed to relish the exercise even more while dressed like Spiderman though and was leaping around like never before. Meanwhile my son came down in an England top claiming to be Wayne Rooney. Safe to say that Fancy Dress Friday probably won’t catch on in our house. It doesn’t mean that we can’t still enjoy the exercise though and again, Joe’s enthusiasm is actually a little bit infectious.

The upshot of it all is that I’m more or less sure that I’m a convert to this particular form of exercise. I’m already beginning to think about how I can make it part of my day when lockdown or isolation ends and work comes calling again. Thankfully it shouldn’t prove to be too tough with modern advances in technology like the ability to have YouTube on your telly. And hopefully, as was the original idea, it’ll help myself and others to fight this virus.

Keep exercising and stay safe everybody.

 

 

Lockdown – The times they are a-changin’.

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I’ve been away from work due to Coronavirus restrictions now for just over two weeks. And while I’d usually try to avoid clichés in writing and never thought I’d be leaning on Ronan Keating for inspiration, the simple fact is that life has become a rollercoaster of emotions.

I’m not normally prone to extremes of emotion. I’m a fairly steady ship, all things considered. I can handle the ups and downs that life throws at me and tend to not bother others with how I’m doing. People have their own struggles, they don’t need to be involved in mine. It’s how I was brought up – internalise it, don’t talk, don’t share. As an adult though, I’ve learnt that you can talk, but I’m still far more likely to just keep things to myself and rely on my own mental strength to get through.

Lockdown has tested this and tested it severely.

I started the whole thing in quite a low mood. My first few days were spent more in self isolation than lockdown, but I was careful and made sure that social distancing rules were adhered to. I’d be pretty stupid to be simultaneously aware of being vulnerable to this virus while also gallivanting around the shops and socialising. Being away from work hurt though. As a teacher in a school in a disadvantaged area I want to be there helping, calming vulnerable students and besides all else, teaching them. But I wasn’t allowed and I brooded on this for days.

The announcement of school closures helped in a funny way. I was now in the same boat as the majority. I no longer felt like I was cheating my way out of work or that I was skiving. But then I found out that I couldn’t access my work emails from home, meaning that I would still be very detached from what was still actually going on in school. Almost two weeks on from the announcement and I’m still waiting for a reply to my email, hoping that someone in our IT department can solve the problem. Luckily, unbeknown to them, it’s been sorted by a teaching colleague (cheers Shaun) and it turns out that everything’s working without me. So no surprise there then…

School closures meant kids at home. And kids at home meant home-schooling, which while it made for another blog post, was a daunting prospect. However, in our house we’ve faced up to it with an unusually positive attitude and we’re trying where possible to do new things. Me and my 10-year-old son now have a daily lockdown Spanish lesson via the Duolingo app and we’ve all started drawing and painting again after a friend set up a Lockdown Creative group. We’ve both had to adapt a bit too – while my wife is a mathematician, she’s been turning her hand to Science too and I’ve been having a go at Geography and History. Never a dull moment, but a hell of a lot of hard work.

Lockdown has created quite an eerie atmosphere though. One of my favourite pastimes has been just looking out of the window, partly to enjoy the stillness of everything, but also to just see if anyone’s out there. I keep looking over at our football pitches with a sense of longing. I’d do anything to be able to put on a training session or shout from the sidelines as we play a match. But lockdown has taken those privileges away and while when I’m doing them it can be fairly stressful and all-consuming, now they’re not there I miss them desperately.

There have been various reports and estimates about the length of time that this will all last for. Personally, I was initially told that I’d have to stay away from work for 4 weeks – there was even a faint suggestion that it might be earlier – but now I just feel any hopes of this fading away. I’ve heard lots of reports of around the 12-13 week mark and many that suggest we may be at home until the new school year begins in September. It’s a strange and terrifying thought. That you won’t see friends and family again for this length of time is almost surreal. And that’s before I even think about my students. But then, given the times we’re living in, as long as I get to see them all again, it’s Ok.

While there have been plenty of positives about the whole lockdown situation, there have been a lot of negatives. I don’t mean just not going out either. The job losses, the closure of community hubs, the suspension of sport and entertainment and of course the death.

From a personal point of view, as an avid user of social media, some of the moralising has sickened me. The campaign to applaud NHS workers was a wonderful thing, but as the son of a former NHS nurse of some 37 years, I did wonder if those applauding had ever particularly appreciated what they had with our health service before this point. Or even, once they’d stopped clapping and Coronavirus became a non too distant memory, would they continue to appreciate it. You see, I lost count of the mornings that my mam would walk in from a night shift in tears or bruised and looking like a ghost of her actual self after a patient or a visitor to her ward had verbally or physically abused her again. Were some of these people now those posting self congratulatory Facebook updates? Was standing at the door clapping as easy as slapping a nurse who was trying to help your dying relative? Was it easy to forget nurses being spat on during their shifts because you were clapping and whooping? Maybe I was over-thinking, maybe I’m the one who’s moralising. I don’t know, but I kept my tributes to the NHS to myself and phoned home to speak to my mam.

As a footnote here, a week on from the initial applause for the NHS and having bumped into friends who work in hospitals on our daily government sanctioned walk, I found myself on my doorstep with several others in my street, applauding and listening to the fantastic noise being generated in our vicinity. To be fair it was a moving experience, but my original point and my original concerns still stand.

I’ve taken a cynical view of other #lockdown social media posts too. And again, perhaps it’s mean-spirited of me, but some of it has made me laugh for all the wrong reasons. The main source here has been from (probably) middle class parents who appear to be trying to outdo each other with posts about what their kids have been up to. I read one saying that their 9 year-old-son was ‘taking advantage’ of lockdown (you know, despite all the death and that) in order to go through his parents’ record collection (because it simply had to be vinyl, didn’t it?) and listen to as much as possible while critiquing it. I simply don’t believe these people exist. And if they do, I feel for their kids. No doubt there are others whose children are learning Ukranian or studying sub-Saharan cave art or raising money for the oppressed indigenous people of Myannmar by having a gluten-free bake sale. They aren’t. But it makes you look interesting to more people on social media while we’re all locked down with nothing else better to do.

A real positive that I’ve discovered through lockdown has been the International Space Station. I know, it doesn’t sound particularly positive, right. More the domain of geeks. But let me explain. I discovered through a Twitter page that you could stand outside at night, during the particularly sunny week we had when the skies were clear, and watch it pass over the planet at a particular time of night. It got me curious and although I realised it would only be a light moving over, I found myself doing a little bit of research. It passes over the planet over 200 miles up, moving at over 17000mph. I was hooked. An actual space ship going over our house. And thus, for a few nights in a row I would be out in the cold, enjoying the silence and gazing skywards as a space ship with three astronauts aboard flew past the moon, Venus and over our house! It was only for a few minutes, but given the times we’re living in, it proved to be a few minutes of absolute joy. It’s something that I’ll continue to do when and where possible.

Lockdown has created a yearning for the outdoors, not just with myself and my family but with lots of others too. When it became clear that we would only be permitted one period of outdoor exercise per da,y my initial thoughts turned to finding ways around this. I was adamant that I’d be setting an alarm for 5am most days and sneaking out for a run. However, an ever growing sense of doom and paranoia put pay to that and I settled on the fact that we’d be out as a family, for a long walk, every night.

This should be a pleasant and positive experience and on the whole it is. However, two pressures have made things a little more serious. Firstly, in order to prevent boredom we’ve been trying to find different routes, which while being wholly possible is now becoming a bit of a pain. Then of course there is the sense of doom that one can feel when you bump into other people. Other people. They’re like the enemy! We’ll spot people approaching from a good distance away and while we’re happy to cross over, should it be safe, as time has gone on it’s become more of a game of cat and mouse. What if they’re turning off? What about the people on the other side? What about the person with the dog approaching from a separate direction? You find yourself still harbouring a sense of fear and yet second guessing the other people on the same side of the road as you! It’s quite bizarre and I don’t think I’ll ever look at going for a walk in the same way again!

The sense of paranoia multiplies tenfold in Asda (other supermarkets are available and indeed frequented). In the space of a couple of weeks I’ve gone from dashing around getting essentials from more or less empty shelves, while trying to think about not straying too close to others, to scenes more akin with what I’d imagined 1980s East Berlin to be like! Now we queue, at least two metres apart, in silence, for a good twenty minutes just so we can get in to the store. Security guards patrol the aisles while other members of staff block doors so you can’t leave via the wrong way. Shoppers eye each other warily, often mumbling or tutting impatiently if you get too close. People don’t seem to have figured out that it’s nigh on impossible to maintain a safe distance once you’re in a busier aisle. And don’t even think about not following the directional arrows on the floor! The weekly shop has become even more of a nightmare than we ever thought it could become.

The final word on lockdown must go to the mood swings. I stated earlier that I’m usually calm and can handle my emotions and not particularly bother others with them. Nowadays things have changed. Last week brought an almost opiate high when BBC 6Music played David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. I sang and danced around the kitchen with actual gay abandon and it felt great. But then while listening to Maximo Park’s ‘Apply Some Pressure’ I was reduced to silent weeping by the line “What happens when you lose everything?’ And then we had to go and watch The Undateables – one of our favourite programmes but one where my viewing was undoubtedly hampered by continuously finding that I had something in my eye…

Coronavirus has changed so much. As the weeks of lockdown pass and the global death toll continues to rise, it’s hard to put a timeframe on when things will feel like any kind of normal again. And will we even recognise what normal is anymore? I sense that even when we’re finally told that everything can go back to ‘normal’ there’ll be such a sense of doubt that normality will, in fact, take a very, very long time.

Until that time, stay safe and remember to look after those that need your help. And of course, keep reading!

Crosby Academy: Adventures in home schooling.

flat lay composition with empty paper
Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

Having been teacher for the last twenty years I’ve experienced a lot of challenges in the classroom. From earth-shattering breaking news like the attack on the Twin Towers to teenagers breaking wind that could well have cleared the classroom out for the day. However, this week I’ve been facing up to perhaps my biggest challenge yet. Home-schooling my own kids.

Monday 23rd March 2020 witnessed the birth of a new place of learning as Crosby Academy opened its doors for the very first time. We’re a small school. Tiny, in fact with a cohort of only two pupils and two teachers. We’re also a bit of a through school with students in Year 9 and Year 6. And with school closures meaning that students may not return to their actual place of learning this academic year, it leaves us sat between two stools, so to speak. Our Year 6 boy could well have seen his last Year 6 action, leaving us wondering if we should simply be preparing for, and getting ahead with, his start at high school.

But enough of the boring details. Let’s get to the fun stuff.

Following a non-existent consultation process I installed myself as Executive Principal of the academy. No interviews needed; I am absolutely the man for this job. I have literally no experience of this level of management, but figure that having worked with various SLTs in the past who seemed under-qualified to collect the trolleys in Asda, I’d be alright. That said, I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to start collecting the trolleys in Asda. Especially that bit where they stop the traffic by wheeling about a hundred of them out in a big row. Never mind, I’ll tackle that in my pensionable years.

Our main aim at Crosby Academy is to make learning fun for our kids. That’s a genuine sentence by the way; there is no punchline. From my point of view, it’s going to be a bit of a culture shock for all of us – we’re all out of our comfort zones, so let’s make sure we can cover lots of the skills the kids will need, but try to relax and enjoy ourselves at the same time.

With fun in mind, we start the day by taking part in Joe Wicks’ live YouTube PE lesson – a kind of aerobic workout, but I’m guessing, designed to be little more child friendly. Our Year 9 student opts out, as she does with most exercise these days, but other than that the whole school – staff and students – are ready to workout. We take our places in the ‘gym’ – our front room – and tune in to Joe’s YouTube channel ready to feel the burn, as they no doubt still say in gyms up and down the land, while staring at themselves in big mirrors and thinking about muscles like abs, quads and glutes.

At 9am Joe is in position, all skin tight top and a pair of shorts. He is enthusiasm personified, which is normally a bit much for me to take, but I remember our school motto, “It’s like getting an education on the Vengabus.” and put it out of mind. I make a mental note to start writing a school song though. My life is nothing without a futile exercise that will amuse me and me only.

We start with a five minute warm up. Some stretches and stuff to get the heart rate going. I am so busy focusing on bending my body into unnatural positions that I forget the 5 minute part and when Joe tells us we’ve finished our warm up I let out an audible “Whaaaat?”, having already worn myself out. But there’s no time to feel sorry for myself because after wittering on about ‘shout outs’ for a minute or so Joe launches into the first proper exercise. I think I might have to employ a new PE teacher; one that just does football and doesn’t ask for shout outs and then do things like tell the whole of New York, ‘We love you, New York’. We don’t. I mean, you’re alright but there are loads of things I love before you, like chocolate, Sam and Cat on Nickalodeon, Army and Navy sweets and almost everything from Greggs.

Despite my post warm-up fear, the next 20 plus minutes is actually really enjoyable. We speed through various exercises, including things called Jumping Jacks and Climbing The Mountain and there is even more talk of shout outs. At one point I find myself staring in some kind of fascination at Mr Wicks, whose abs are clearly visible even though he’s wearing a t-shirt. It’s like his clothes have been sprayed on and sculpted to him. Meanwhile I’m wearing the kind of loose top I wear for running that should hide a multitude of sins and still my little pot belly is shamefully visible. No matter – I still manage to stumble through the exercises. We seem to do more squats than is humanly necessary and at one point I fear that we should have set up a safe word beforehand, but I get through it. We all do. It feels like the toughest PE lesson ever, but as Executive Principal, I feel like I’ve sent an important message to my staff and pupils. It may well be that lycra and strenuous exercise is to be avoided by a man of my age, but I’ve sent an important message all the same. I might have to go and have a lie down, just while I figure out what it actually is though, you understand.

I decide that we’ll keep Mr Wicks at Crosby Academy. In my head we have the conversation about it. I tell him, “Mr Wicks *then I pause for dramatic effect, because I’m a man of great power now* we’d be more than happy to keep you here at the academy” and he looks at me a little bit in awe but all the while really chuffed, and says something like “wicked” and then gets carried away and calls me “geezer” before apologising. I tell him it’s OK and laugh while I ask the kids and the wife to ‘give a shout out to r Wicks!’. I think we’re having a bromance.

After our PE lesson, as we’re yet to go into lockdown, we go out for a walk, just as a sort of warm down. It’s a beautiful early Spring day, we’re keeping a safe distance from the very few people we encounter and we’re trying to keep the fun in education, remember?

Once we return to school Year 9 settle down to do some Art, while I take Year6/7 up to the Key Stage Fluid Suite (Dylan’s bedroom) to do some English. My daughter is studying for GCSE Art and with a lot of encouragement from us is beginning to believe in herself. She’s in fact very talented and is nowadays happy to just sit and draw or paint. Me and the boy leave her to it.

We’re doing some creative writing so we incorporate some of the ideas from Dylan’s school such as starting with an IQ, which it turns out is some sort of question where neither of us understands what the ‘I’ stands for. This is a bit of a worry given that my Year6/7 student will have had a lot of experience of using them, but I tell myself, it’s OK and that ‘school’s out’, so none of it matters. Learning on the Vengabus, remember? We work out however, that it seems to be a kind of learning purpose, but in the form of a question, so we muddle on through and settle on ‘Can I use interesting vocabulary in my description?’ Secretly I’m thinking more along the lines of ‘Can I get through this next hour without throwing his books out of the window?’ but I don’t let on.

I try to bring a bit of a flavour of high school to his work by making sure his writing is planned and making him stick to a timeframe. I also mark it soon after he’s finished and give him areas for improvement; what we call EBI (Even Better If) points. I’m not sure he likes it, but I try to be as positive as possible, given the fact that he’s my son and of course the only student in the year group. I’m thrilled to see that his first effort is pretty damn good. He’s a little bit shocked to discover that he’ll be re-drafting his work in tomorrow’s lesson though!

Following our English and Art lessons it’s break time and I decide to head out on duty. Our Year 9 student is out in the yard (our garden) so I decide to go and check on her. I think it’s important as the most important person in the academy, who it all revolves around (it’s all about me, not the bloody students), that I get out and mix. However, when I look for her she’s not there and I’m sent into a momentary spin. I’ve lost an entire year group!

It turns out that she’s channeling her inner Goth and avoiding the outdoors because it’s sunny and therefore not the kind of place for vampires. She’s in the room we use for messy play. Actually, let’s just correct that – she’s in her own really messy room doing her best impression of a tramp, in amongst all of her worldly possessions strewn about a 9ft by 9ft box room. She’s OK though and her mostly independent learning seems to be going well.

I decide to do what good leaders do next. I go and check up on my staff. I’ve done plenty of learning walks in actual schools, but not one in a home-school environment. That said, my home-school career is only hours old. However, I feel, given her inexperience as an educator, it’s time to pop into one of my wife’s lessons! Maybe I can pass on a few tips? I’m sure she’d appreciate that…

Obviously, she’s thrilled to see me and spends almost all of the time that I’m in the room with a big smile on her face. Or is that gritted teeth? There’s no pressure here at Crosby Academy though. I simply ask her about 14 different questions about what she’s doing and then, when I feel that I’ve had the answers that I consider the correct ones, I leave.

I don’t do any of this, obviously. But I do pop my head around the door to see how things are going. I haven’t heard any shouting from upstairs so it seems to have been going well and when I enquire that seems to be the case. It’s been a good first day and we bring things to an end rather early in order to give everyone a break and a bit of space away from each other.

For the rest of the week I’m largely responsible for all of the learning at Crosby Academy. Our Maths and Science teacher, my wife, who gets to specialise in all the boring subjects in one go, has to be back at work. In fact, given what is now a lockdown situation, she chooses to work from home, utilising one of our learning hubs here at the academy to make for a home office. Or rather, after a day trying to work at the dining room table with our daughter, she gives up and confines herself to our bedroom for the remainder of the week.

This leaves me as the sole teacher and as a result I give myself a promotion, following a meeting of the school governor (yes that is singular and the meeting amounts to me having a bit of a think). My title is now Admiral of Education – grandiose you may feel, but I’m the fella steering the learning liner, remember. It’s only me that’s responsible for the course of this particular pedagogical pedalo. And thus, admiral seems an extremely fitting title.

For the rest of the week we cover quite a bit of ground. We’re disciplined enough to make sure that we have school every day. Every morning at least two of us join in with Mr Wicks’s PE lesson and every morning I feel like he might be trying to do me an injury. No matter, I manage to stay with it for the week and although it’s difficult, it’s a huge amount of fun too. It feels like a nice way to spend doing some father son bonding time with the added perk that by the time it’s all finished and we’re back to some sense of normality I’ll have buns of steel as well as the possibility of actual abs, rather than just a little pot belly made out of crisps, chocolate and beer.

Our Year 9 student becomes largely autonomous, although I make sure that I check in on her progress regularly. So regularly in fact, that I’m positively wowed by the amount of education one can get from one’s phone these days…

My son – our Year 6 maybe 7 student – needs supervision, however. And so as well as daily Maths and English lessons, we spend time learning Spanish, learning about lines of longtitude in Geography, tuning in to a brilliant live lesson from a World War II bunker in History and then doing some Art outside in the sunshine. My friend and Art teacher Helen has set up a self-isolation Facebook group designed to get people doing art every day and so after our Art lesson I post both of our drawings in the group. It’s to my eternal disappointment that Dylan’s two cartoons from the Dogman books get infinitely more likes than my drawing of a flower from our camellia bush. It seems everyone really is a critic!

As the week ends I realise that despite the sense of dread that I’d had about home-schooling, I’ve really enjoyed myself. We’ve managed to have fun – I’ve only had the one tantrum after all – and I’d like to think that both kids have kept up their learning. Friends on social media have helped with ideas and through sharing things like the World War II bunker lesson and the Facebook drawing group and in the end it’s been a success. So much of a success in fact that I’m considering knocking on my neighbour’s door over the weekend to ask them if they’d like to join in with Crosby Academy. I could have a multi academy trust on my hands by the start of April.

Does anybody know what the rank above admiral is?

 

 

 

 

My not so splendid self-isolation diary

coronaWith Coronavirus in full swing across the world it was inevitable that it would eventually come knocking at my door. Last Tuesday was that day. I don’t have the virus, but as a result of underlying medical conditions have had to self-isolate after work told me to stay away for my own good.

I feel like there’s nothing actually wrong with me, but I must admit that I’d begun to worry about the way things were developing and the fact that I would be vulnerable to the virus. But while there’s a sense of relief at being at home, it’s mostly overwhelmed by a sense of frustration. So, in order to alleviate the boredom, I decided to write a blog.

My first day of isolation was largely spent around the house. I did pop out. I gave my daughter a lift to the top of the road to meet her lift to school and went to the bottom of the drive a couple of the times to put stuff in the bin. As you can imagine, it was mostly a mind-numbing experience. As a middle-aged man, I’ve worked for longer than I can remember and so you get used to a bit of social interaction. I work in an English department with fantastic people and so to suddenly be wrenched away from them has left a bit of a void. So it was a day of feeling quite sad really.

On a few of occasions the sadness was amplified too. It started when I received a message from my boss, saying that my calmness would be missed and that the right decision had been made. Thoughts immediately returned not just to my brilliant colleagues, but to my classes – from the over confident kids right through to the more vulnerable youngsters I engage with daily. With exams only just over the horizon it felt kind of desperate that I wouldn’t be there to keep them working hard.

When my wife told me about the Easter eggs at Asda it made me sad. A bit pathetic, right? But there is a reason. On Monday night we received the information that football at grassroots level had been shut down for the foreseeable future, meaning that as a grassroots coach, a big part of my social life was taken away there and then. Last year I bought all of my squad an Easter egg and the thought of not seeing their greedy little faces lighting up as they grabbed an egg this time around was pretty rubbish, to say the least.

Busying myself by tidying up didn’t help either. At one stage I put my football boots away and then realised that it might be a long while before I pull them back on again. In a day of small peaks and large troughs, this had me reaching new depths.

I quickly realised that I needed a plan. Part of that would include blogging and I would also have to be sending work in for my classes until the inevitable happens and the school is forced to close. But in order to retain some sense of sanity, I’d need to get out and about for the odd walk and to make sure I got some exercise.

Later on, there’s a cry from upstairs followed by the noise of hurried footsteps heading down towards us. ‘My school’s closing! My school’s closing!’ We immediately put the television on to be greeted with the sight of Boris Johnson confirming that, indeed, schools across England will close after Friday. I have to admit that it comes as a bit of a shock. The finality of it all. The country’s closing down and despite being someone who tries to never dwell on matters too much, I can’t stop thinking about it.

By around 6pm I’ve had enough. For the first time in a very long time I feel like I’m going to explode. Not literally, thankfully. Because the virus the leads you to explode sounds like a nightmare and I’d happily sit in the house for as long as it took to avoid that one.

I take the kids out for a long walk, hoping that fresh air will help us all out. Later that evening I resort to a tried and tested method of banishing my worries. A great big glass of red wine and a cornetto. It’s been a hell of a day.

Day two is different. Better. I take the kids to school and the pop down to Sainsbury’s to buy a few things. I’m not there to panic buy as we’ve always tried to make sure that we have a little extra in. I’ve said I’ll get cotton pads for make-up removal for my daughter. However, I’m forced to wait in the car for half an hour as the supermarket are giving over their first hour of trading to pensioners and the vulnerable. I could play the ‘high risk’ card here, but instead just go back and sit in the car and listen to the radio. What I witness over the next half hour is a little annoying to say the least as pensioner after pensioner unloads over-stacked trolleys into the boot of their cars. They’ve stripped the shelves like a rare breed of toilet roll locust. From my vantage point it’s clear to see that a fair few of them already have packed bags from other supermarkets in the boot. So even the old and vulnerable are panic buying! But it’s OK, we’ll just lay the blame at the door of stupid people instead. None of this could possibly be attributed to cuddly grey haired people.

When I return home I watch a little bit of TV before deciding that I’d be better off outside the house. So, I wrap up and go for a walk. Today, according to my watch, I’ll do over 21,000 steps and rack up some 11.3 miles. I walk and walk and walk. And when I return home, I head straight back out again, and walk up to the doctors to collect my wife’s prescription. It’s predictably chaotic and I leave empty handed. But at least I’m not sat in the house, watching telly and driving myself mad. And yes, I’m keeping a safe social distance from other people. If you’ve met me you know that social distancing isn’t just a rule for a crisis with me, but more or less a way of life!

In the afternoon I make a video and send it to some friends to see what they think. It’s a parody video of a teaching guru. He’s his own biggest fan. It may yet make a more public appearance, but for now I’m happy that my pals seem to enjoy it. It’s a lovely response, but in turn it serves to accentuate the fact that I really miss being at work. However, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, so I’m glad that my boredom has forced me into action.

By Day Three I’m a great deal more calm. This will be the last day spent on my own as my kids will be at home from now on, what with schools closing across England. My wife will most likely work from home too. I watch a bit of television, but by about 9.30 I’m crawling the walls and so, I grab my wife’s prescription, put my jacket and trainers on and head out. The streets are quiet so it isn’t all that difficult to avoid people, but it’s a very different story at the pharmacy. I walk in through the automatic doors and take my place in what seems to be a very strange queue. There aren’t many of us, but we’re spaced out right across the floor of the pharmacy. There’s also a two metre barrier across the counter with red and white tape stuck between cones on the floor. I realise that things are serious, but I can’t help but smile.

The barrier isn’t the only thing that’s serious though. The faces of the pensioners in front of me are too. And they’re staring at me. I wonder briefly if I have porridge down my chin, but a furtive stroke of my face reveals that I’m OK. Then the woman speaks.

“You can’t be in here.”

“Huh?”

“You can’t be in here.”

“But this is where you get prescriptions.” I raise my little booklet prescription to illustrate my point.”

“But you can’t be in here.” I’m just about to lose my rag and start ranting about panic buying in Sainsbury’s when she explains.

“It’s three at a time. You have to wait outside.”

I shrug my shoulders and leave, hoping that I’ve missed the explanation on the door. But the only thing on the door is a sheet of A4 paper with a word-processed notice that informs all who cross the threshold that Coronavirus is knocking about. Considerate, I think, and resolve to watch the news a bit more.

Eventually, I’m allowed in and this time I’m successful. As I pay I make an exaggerated fuss of reaching over the 2 metre gap, flailing around trying to get contactless to make the required contact in order to transfer the money. I manage on the third attempt and hope that however dark the humour here, it’s made people smile. It hasn’t, unless you count me. I grab the prescription, stuff it in my pocket and leave. I head away from home. More exercise, more thinking time.

I walk and my thoughts turn to my Year 11 class. I didn’t tell them that I wouldn’t be back at the end of our final lesson on Tuesday. I didn’t want to unsettle them. At that point there were still exams to be studying for. But that was short-lived and now I feel quite rueful about the fact that I didn’t say goodbye. Every year they ask, “Will you miss us, sir?” My answer is always the same. In the nicest possible way I ell them “No”, not because I won’t ever give them a passing thought or because I don’t build relationships with the classes, but because there’s always another Year 11 group, another exam class.

This year, in forced isolation, I’ll miss them terribly.

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