Easter Holiday Goals

Easter is one of my favourite times of year. Not because of the religious connotations. Not because of the chocolate. Well, maybe a little bit because of the chocolate. Mainly though, what Easter signifies is two weeks holiday from work. A significant rest before we go back to summer term and the last push with exam classes and finishing all of the topics that you needed to get through with all of your classes. The last break before subjecting yourself to the inevitable exhaustion and fending off student complaints about wearing blazers that summer term always brings.

However, as with any break from work, duty calls. There are always any number of jobs that I’ve been putting off while trying to get through the January to Easter slog at work. There are things to do with the family, who despite my best efforts have probably been neglected a bit in the months since Christmas. And there will be things that I want to do for me as well. So, this year, rather than a ticklist written on the back of an envelope, I thought I’d set some goals.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Decorate the kitchen and kitchen cupboards. For longer than I care to remember we have needed to get a new kitchen. But for various reasons that mainly come down to not wanting the hassle of people disrupting everything we do for a couple of weeks and making a total mess and the fact that we’ve also been thinking of moving house for ages, it’s a job we’ve not gone through with. We’ve come close on a couple of occasions, but each time we’ve ended up ducking out of it when the kitchen designer got a bit too pushy or fussy. Or, you know, designing a kitcheny…

Now though, in a fit of lockdown driven activity we’ve come to a compromise and decided to update things. So my biggest job and biggest goals of the Easter break will be to redecorate the kitchen and also sand down the cupboard doors and re-paint them. We bought the paint before Christmas, so we’re all set to go. It promises to be a tough job, but I’ve got time and am actually looking forward to having a go at it. I don’t imagine I’ll be able to produce any kind of professional finish, but I think I’ll be hard pushed not to improve it as the decorating hasn’t been finished from the last time I did it! I won’t reveal when that was though!

Break in my new trainers and attempt new personal best times for 5km and 10km runs. I’m hoping that the kitchen decorating will leave me enough time and energy to have a go at this! However, with two weeks off I should be able to comfortably squeeze in some running time, rather than having to rush home from work in the hope of getting an hour in before preparing tea for my kids. And maybe having not done a day’s work before a run, I might have a bit more energy and a bit more pace! I think the best I’ve managed for a 5k was around 24 minutes, so I think I’ve got scope to go quicker, even at my age!

I bought a new pair of New Balance runners in a Winter sale and have worn them for a couple of walks and one 7 mile run so far. The run proved that they’re not really broken in. For the last couple of miles my feet were uncomfortable and then after I finished I noticed later that one of my toes was bleeding! For the record, it was a good hour after I’d come home, taken off my trainers and socks and began pottering around the kitchen before I noticed this. Self care, ladies and gentlemen! Clearly, I needed to wear them for some more walks first! So that definitely represents an achievable goal and perhaps by the time the two weeks are ending I can go out for a more comfortable run in them.

Research some runs/races to enter. Covid-19 has meant that it’s been a long time since I ran with anyone other than my 11 year old son. I’m beginning to crave a more competitive edge to my running again. It was less than 6 months prior to lockdown that I’d started running properly again and as well as running locally both on my own and with my son, I’d done a few Park Runs. It was Park Run that had whetted my appetite for a bit of company and competition and now having been running mainly solo for over a year, I think I’m fit enough to test myself again. So this Easter I’ll be investigating any possible runs that I can enter. I know that they’re unlikely to be staged until some time in summer, but I’m quite excited about testing myself.

Garden Jobs. And there we have it. Two words the signify end of everyone’s fun. But there’s no denying that it’s that time of year again. Spring has sprung and the competitive side of me wants to be the first person in the street with his front lawn cut! After that I’m hoping I can do other things like paint some of the rougher looking fence panels, clear things like fallen leaves and twigs and maybe even finish painting the garden bench that I started at the end of last summer!

None of it represents a whole load of fun, but it’s a good way of reminding yourself that you’re an adult! If the weather is good enough I can easily potter about doing jobs and making the place look a lot better for a good few hours. So hopefully we’ll get a few days of sun. In the north of England. In April. Fingers crossed, eh?

Training Programme. Grassroots football will return over the Easter break and it’s something I’m very excited about. Firstly, we can begin training again from March 29th and then after that competitive games start on April 11th. Our season doesn’t then finish until June 6th. In fact, if there are any problems we have until June 28th to get everything done.

So, in a moment of optimism I decided that I was going to make sure that I was prepared. I’ve already done some work on this, but with training looming I must admit that I haven’t actually planned our first session. So that’s where we start this Easter. From there I need to make sure that training sessions are in place for at least a couple of weeks. As well as this though, I really want to think of ways to keep my team fit in between training and also I want to make some tactical plans for actual games. We’re close to the bottom of the league and there’s no way I’m allowing us to slip any further! On the contrary in fact; I think that with a bit of hard work we can move up the league and turn this into a relatively successful season. And given all the disruption that we’ve had, it would be nice to end the season on a high note.

Bonsai Trees! My final goal revolves around a present that I got for Father’s Day…in 2020. My children bought me a pack that will enable me to grow bonsai tress and as thrilled as I was with this, I’ve still not found time to actually sit down and get started. But if you can’t start growing mini trees in Spring, then when can you grow mini trees?

I’m really hopeful that I’ll get through all of my Easter goals. There’s a lot there, but hopefully, with a bit of determination and hard work I can head back to work knowing that I managed to get a load of things done with my time and still feel like I’ve had a rest!

Seven Reasons Why This Grinch Loves Christmas!

I’m going to start this post by addressing a little gripe of mine. It’s about my reputation. Or at least the reputation that I feel like I’ve picked up over the years. It seems that some people – colleagues, students, even some friends and family (even my wife) – regard me as a little bit grumpy. And when I say a little bit, I just mean grumpy. Very grumpy.

Personally, I don’t think I deserve my reputation. I’m not grumpy. Not anymore than anyone else I would imagine. I’m not relentlessly happy either, but I certainly wouldn’t refer to myself as grumpy. In fact, the fact that people refer to me as grumpy simply makes me feel…well…grumpy.

I think my problem is that I’m more of a realist than some would like. Maybe even too honest, when honesty is not what people are looking for. So if someone asks how I am, while most of the time I’m happy to toe the line and tell them I’m good, there may well be other times when I’ll tell them that actually I’m really tired, or that I’m sick of work, or that I just can’t be bothered to be doing what’s asked of me – I’ll always do it though. Similarly, as a coach or at work, if something needs to be pointed out to a kid as a bit of a target I’m not afraid to let them know.

I don’t believe in relentless positivity for relentless positivity’s sake. and I don’t walk around whistling show tunes or constantly grinning. But that doesn’t make me grumpy.

I’m writing this blog the night before our last day at work before the end of term break for Christmas. Tomorrow will be Christmas jumper day, so at this point I should add that my Christmas jumper features a huge picture of The Grinch on the front. Consequently, and no doubt also because people have just got the wrong impression, it has been known for a few people to actually refer to me as The Grinch. And yes, when they joke about it and point to the image on the front, I don’t laugh. It’s not a lack of a sense of humour and it’s not being grumpy; it’s just that stating the blindingly obvious isn’t very funny. In actual fact, the joke is on those who make the joke.

So then, now we’ve shattered the illusion, it’s time to let you know why this Grinch loves Christmas. Some of the reasons are predictable and obvious and others aren’t, but here we go.

  1. Christmas films. (Or Christmas movies if your grasp of English isn’t that great or your American) Not exactly a revelation this one, eh? I mean lots of people love Christmas films., so maybe I’m stating the obvious here. Christmas films are truly special though. You only watch them at Christmas, unless you’re trying to gain a reputation as a bit of a ‘character’ and they’re about the kind of stuff that we’re all doing anyway (apart from Home Alone and Die Hard – although I’ll put it on the record right here and now that the only time I run riot in a white vest is at Christmas), but still surely everybody gets at least a bit of a warm glow when watching them. Some of them aren’t even that good, yet we’ll sit through them and maybe even get a little teary-eyed at what’s unfolding in front of us. The Polar Express is a prime example here. I have to admit that while we watch it every Christmas Eve and it’s an obviously lovely film, there are periods of that film where I’ve just lost track and it’s just dragging. It genuinely feels like a 7 hour film. But if I’m cuddled up with one of my children, maybe sipping on a hot chocolate and watching some feel-good Christmas film (it might even be The Grinch, just for the sake of irony), I’m relaxed and I’m very, very happy.
  2. Decorated Houses. Now, to be clear, I’m not one those people who has every inch of the house covered in lights and twelve foot tall Christmas figures stood in the front garden. However, there’s definitely something about houses in the street or those around us being lit up that will make me feel a lot more festive. It’s genuinely astonishing the amount of effort that some people go to and I for one appreciate it greatly. Over the past few years, largely driven by my wife, we’ve gradually built up the lights and decorations around our house. We have lights in the tree in our front garden, others in some of the shrubs and we have light up candy canes bordering the drive. Or at least we did have light up candy canes until the whole unit dropped from the box as I was putting them out this year and broke. So now we just have candy canes. They still look great though. On top of this we also have a new addition; a projector on the front lawn that casts festive images on to the front of our house. Tacky? I’m not sure, but as I park the car on the drive after a long day at work and see it all in full flow it’s a sight that gladdens my heart. And it’s another reason to believe that perhaps I’m not the Grinch after all.
  3. Squinting at the Christmas tree. Yep, you read that right. It might seem a bit weird, but it’s something I always do and it always makes me feel happy. There’s no great explanation here. When it’s night time and we have the Christmas tree lit up, I like to stare at the lights and find that if I squint a bit it makes them appear a bit bigger and brighter. I just think it’s a lovely sight. Just me? I expect so, but if you’ve never tried it then give it a go. And if you don’t like it then maybe it’s you who’s the Grinch!
  4. Giving Gifts. Firstly, let’s get this out of the way. I absolutely love getting presents. Me and my wife still spoil each other rotten at Christmas and I still find it very exciting seeing what I’ve been bought. That might seem a little bit immature, but personally I think it’s just very normal. Surely we all like opening presents? I genuinely prefer giving though and it feels like I always go over the top. We’re lucky enough to be able to treat our children well at Christmas and it’s always a lovely feeling watching them open their presents. I still get a lot of pleasure out of shopping for my wife though. We have a budget, but I think we both overspend anyway! I like planning what I’m going to buy and trying to come up with things that my wife wouldn’t suspect she’s going to get and I feel like after all of the years we’ve been together. more often than not, I get it at least reasonably right! I still, as any bloke should, make sure that I ask for gift receipts though!
  5. Family. Again, nothing too startling here. Christmas is well known as a time for family and like lots of people, I enjoy getting together with mine. I’d include friends in that as well. I’ve lived away from my home city of Newcastle since I was 23 – so a long time! I love going home though. Every Christmas we visit family and friends and it’s always fantastic. It’s nice sitting in my parents house and just chatting and it’s lovely being treat like a bit of a kid again! We usually go out for a family meal and it’s brilliant seeing my kids with their grandparents as it’s something that doesn’t happen that often. We also always visit our oldest friends in their home and again, it’s lovely just to sit and chat (we usually do a lot of festive moaning about our families and children, but that’s besides the point) and always a bit of a tragedy when you realise how late it’s got and that it’s time to head back down the motorway to home. In fact, it’s almost the final sign that Christmas has come to an end and who wants that?
  6. The Annual Trip to The Panto! Now pantomime is a particularly British tradition, so it might need a bit of explaining. Panto (or pantomime to give it its full title) is best described as a play, but with more songs, farce and general silliness! It’s an occasion for the whole family and they are always hugely popular. They often involve celebrities playing handsome princes or beautiful princesses who have got themselves into a bit of trouble. There’s always a bad guy or two, but with a bit of singing, dancing and audience participation, everything gets resolved and often the handsome prince and princess live happily ever after together. I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a recipe for a brilliant festive night out. We’re lucky here i Yorkshire as we have one of the best pantos in Britain at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford and for the last six or seven years we’ve gone along on the first Saturday of the Christmas holidays to watch the evening show. Over the years we’ve watched a Nolan sister, one of Steps, Christopher Biggins, Gareth Gates, a Chuckle Brother and Simon Webb of boyband Blue fame; all throwing themselves into a bit of panto fun. But they all take second place to the true star of the show, the legend that is Billy Pearce who always gets the audience shouting and singing along as well as laughing uproariously with some of the daftest jokes you’re ever likely to hear. It’s always a brilliant evening – I even enjoyed the one where I spent most of the evening in the foyer with my son who was sick all over my shoes and had to leave the auditorium in a bit of a hurry! Still, even the actual Grinch would love the panto.
  7. The Last Day of Christmas Term. As a teacher, I love the last day of any term, but the last one before Christmas always feels particularly special. It’s generally just a hugely relaxed atmosphere and there is little if any teaching attempted, with watching Christmas films being more the order of the day. It really feels like everyone is happy and with staff in Christmas jumpers and snacks galore to go around, it’s always a fantastically enjoyable day.

So there you have it. Although I might well have a reputation for being a tiny bit Grinchy, I still very much love Christmas and I’d love to hear what everyone else’s favourite parts of the most wonderful time of the year are, so let me know in the comments!

Happy Christmas everyone!

Lockdown Holiday!

When lockdown first took hold of our lives and the government applied stringent rules to anyone who wasn’t Dominic Cummings or at least working closely with him, we decided against booking our usual Easter break. It seemed sensible and we felt it would be a small compromise and that we’d soon be able to travel again. Well, we all know how that turned out. Later, our summer holiday was cancelled too.

Each year we head to North Wales and the Llyn Peninsula for a week long break at the start of the school holidays. Now, we were being told that the infrastructure wouldn’t be able to cope with tourists and that essentially, North Wales was being closed to visitors. It was understandable, given what we were experiencing at home in a much more built up region where the facilities and infrastructure were set up to cope with a much greater number of people. The longer that lockdown went on and the longer that we worked from home, the more we just accepted our fate. There would be no holiday this year.

And then, out of nowhere, at the start of July we received an email from the owners of the cottage that we usually stay in. Wales was opening up to tourists again and, if we still wanted it, our holiday was on. After a lot less thought than I imagined we’d have, we emailed to confirm – we were off on holiday! We decided that our mantra would be ‘four different walls’ and took the plunge. Having been stuck at home since March, even four different walls would feel like a holiday. Anything to break the monotony of the previous few months.

In terms of lockdown rules, Wales was slightly behind England, so a lot less was actually going to be open, including pubs, but we were glad of the change. One of the bonuses of Wales still being largely closed was that we could probably pack less though! No going out for meals would mean less clothes. We’d still have things for the beach and there’d probably be more books and magazines to take, but overall the car wouldn’t be fit to burst this year. Maybe the kids could sit in actual sitting positions, rather than having to tuck their legs up to accommodate extra bags! (That’s not actually true for anyone considering calling Childline.)

Before we knew it we were indeed heading down the motorway in a car that was a little lighter and also heading for the first problematic part of our trip. We’re creatures of habit in our family and so every year, on the way down to the cottage, we stop off in Colwyn Bay (as an aside, we can never remember whether it’s Colwyn Bay or Conwy, but we know it’s near LLandudno!). The problem here was that with public toilets closed we would need somewhere new to stop and while this doesn’t sound like much of a problem – motorway services anyone? – it was actually quite traumatic. and kept us busy deciding where to stop for far too long! In the end, we found a services, followed the social distancing guidelines, stuck to the one way systems, popped into the toilets, armed ourselves with coffee and ate our picnic in the car. Not quite the same as always, but then this always was going to be a slightly different holiday.

Porthmadog was noticeable quieter than usual when we arrived. It’s normally a bustling little town, but now there were far fewer people on the main street. It was hearetning to see that some of the local shops and businesses were open and relatively thriving though.

This was our third stay in this particular cottage and it felt lovely to walk through the door and find that little had changed. Things like DVDs, books and board games had been removed and there were notices re health and safety on several walls, but this was still very much our little cottage. And there was also the added bonus of the owners signing up for Netflix to alleviate the situation with DVDs and board games – more than a fair trade, I’d say! A definite plus point for the global pandemic!

One thing that definitely wouldn’t – and didn’t – change was access to beaches. The village where we stay has a huge beach and so we knew we’d be able to comfortably stay at a social distance from others down there. Getting to our favourite little beach might well be more problematic, but more on that later.

There would be no pub visits either. Unlike in England, pubs in Wales were yet to open, although it would be possible to eat outdoors. Usually we have a rota of pubs that we visit and we generally always eat out, but Covid-19 meant a change of plan. Luckily, some of our regular haunts were operating a takeaway service and so, for our first evening we ordered a Sunday roast from our favourite pub and popped down into town to collect. What we got was an absolute banquet fit for about 12, meaning that the holiday got off to a great start, even if it was quite a fat one!

This was a theme that continued throughout the week. We’d order food from one of our favourite pubs and go and collect. Despite the pandemic and the sense of paranoia, there was always a warm welcome and it was clear that those running pubs were just pleased to be getting any custom. Everything was brilliantly organised and customer and staff safety was obviously at the top of all agendas. We were still told of some visitors who’d actually complained about not being able to go into the pubs though and it seemed strange that they had missed any news whatsoever of a pandemic and the fact that practically everything had changed!

In terms of trips to the beach, we spent the first full day on the local beach, Black Rock Sands, a vast stretch of sand, where as well as people you’ll find dogs, cars and even the odd ice-cream van! Needless to say, social distancing wasn’t a problem.

It’s such a big beach that we always make space and time for some family sports. This year there was beach tennis, baseball, football and a curious game that involves a ball and two kind of big plastic half-cylinders (I’m sorry I’m not eloquent enough to explain exactly what they are!) and of course even more space than ever. We also made time to just laze around, reading and watching the world go by. Lockdown restrictions or not, this is still a holiday and there’s nothing better on holiday than just to sit and stare at nothing in particular!

Before we travelled we were reticent about visiting our favourite beach, given that the only access to it was via a long narrow coastal path. This was also the coastal path that ran along the whole coast and thus dog walkers and hikers were a common site. So, the chances of making the journey to and from our beach without bumping into people and indeed squeezing past them, were slim.

However, by the second full day, with great weather forecast, we were wiling to try. We prepared a picnic, packed the car as usual and set off for the short drive to the end of the coastal path. It was busier than we’d imagined when we arrived, but most people seemed to be hanging around the harbour having a drink or an ice cream. We did pass one or two people on the long path heading for the beach, but it was just a case of holding your breath and squeezing in a bit as there was literally nothing else for it other than throw yourself in a hedge!

On the beach, despite it being quite a small cove, people were very respectful of social distancing and there must have been 7 or 8 metres between us and the next family on the sand. Buoyed by the weather and the conditions on the beach, we had a brilliant day and even spent the next day there too.

We’re usually quite fond of a day out on our Wales holiday. It’s home to many a castle and an amazing coastline and so there are lots of choices like Harlech, Cearnarfon and Barmouth, where we’ve had some brilliant times. This year though, with some lockdown restrictions still in place we felt it was safer to stay close to home – or actually at home – and so were robbed of such trips. The weather didn’t really help either – it was pretty much miserable for the last few days and although we managed one more day on the beach, it was fairly cloudy and not particularly warm. Defintely no need to get the beach body out!

We did attempt to salvage something on the rainy days too, rather than just resorting to lazing around watching Netflix. On the first of these days, we took a picnic down to Black Rock Sands only to find that it was akin to sitting in a sandstorm. This meant that we had an express picnic in record time, huddled behind a large sand dune with no one allowed to mention the extra sandy crunch of their sandwiches! On the other day we misjudged the weather conditions, walking the length of the beach before turning round to head back…just as torrential rain started! We could have swam back and been drier! Needless to say, both kids – the pre-teen son and teenage daughter – took both days in their stride, handling them with good humour…

(Actually, both took moaning about the weather to dizzy new heights, if the truth be told. In fact, such was my daughter’s level of sulking as we ate our picnic that I spent the whole time in fits of giggles trying not to choke on my food. She took this well though. Actually…well, you get the picture!)

By the end of our holiday we’d had a lovely time. I’d totally recommend this area of North Wales to anyone, especially families. The lockdown restrictions made things a little more difficult, but people were as friendly and accommodating as always.

We usually spend our last morning having a wander down Porthmadog high street going in and out of the shops hunting down souvenirs, but given the social distancing problems we gave it a miss and were on the road in record time.

We’d had a lovely time. The beaches had their usual relaxing effect and it’s always nice to get some sea air. We hadn’t got to do our usual eating out, but had taken advantage of some brilliant take out options. In the end we’d come for four different walls and had certainly got that and then some! We’ll try to do it all again next year, fingers crossed without the looming shadow of Covid-19!

Poetry Blog: A Slice of Heaven

It’s undoubtedly been a funny old year. I don’t think I need to give you some kind of encyclopedic explanation as to why. However, recently we managed to get away for a week’s holiday in the UK, something that we felt wasn’t going to be possible and another thing to fall victim to the pandemic.

Initially our holiday had been cancelled and then we received an email letting us know that it was once again possible. Somewhat hesitantly we agreed that we’d go, our reasoning being that a different four walls might be just what we need. We never imagined that we’d be able to go to our favourite beach.

It was that thought that led to me writing this poem. I was just sat one night, thinking about the upcoming holiday and previous ones and remembering the feeling of heading to our favourite beach. Whenever we’re there we’re relaxed and happy and so it really is like a slice of heaven to us, hence the title.

You clamber up the steep path, weighed down by a day’s food, drink and entertainment, round the last curve of the dead end street, stalking the low wall that snakes along the cliff edge and catching a first glorious glimpse of the sea. Soon, your feet will feel the first crunch of gravel. You glance right and see the bench where you all first huddled during a gale stricken picnic, because that was what families must do for a sense of adventure. The memory fades, just as you do, engulfed by hedgerows as you crest the first hill and disappear from sight, furtively glancing back, relieved that no one follows to discover your almost secret. The path narrows and curves, dips like the lasts wallow of summer before turning to sand, just like the feeling of life before this place. Your progress now covered by the tree line, you tramp steadfastly on, gasping for breath a little, still weighed down by explorer’s provisions. You remind yourself of what awaits as you stagger to the top of an Everest-like rise with nothing now between you and the sky. Deeper sand, a rickety bridge and then you creep down steps steep until you sink into pristine sand at the bottom and moonwalk exaggerated stpes across the cove, finding the perfect spot and spreading out your things just a little too much to hint that no one should come too close. Seconds pass and you remove layers of clothing, while simultaneously discarding a year’s worth of work, stress, life, before collapsing onto a perfectly placed blanket and gazing, awestruck, through sheltered eyes at the rest of your day. The estuary with its strong currents, where if you time it right and challenge the tide you can wade out through ever warmer water until you find yourself on a sand spit that feels like another planet, cut off from all other human life. You remember his hand clasping yours as he trembled, trying to be, desperate to be your big boy, as the water lapped at his chest and with every step he sunk deeper into the sand beneath. Eventually you picked him up, daddy’s got you, and bury your own trepidation until you made it onto the ever-fading island and let him run through the rock pools while you sat and took pictures with your mind that you knew you’d cling on to forever. Later, you’d watch them both playing on the rocks, best friends for once, keen to be grown up adventurers; the elder doing whatever it took to keep the younger happy. Their happiness shrieked its way across the sand so that even when you drifted off and lost sight of them, you could find them easily again. Beside you, the love of your life lies on the blanket, no longer propped up on elbows, book still stuck to fingers, headphones still in ears, but breathing a little too heavily to feign being awake. While the sun beats down, you leave her be, safe from the demands of everyday life; the phone calls, spreadsheets, meals, entertainment. You turn your eyes seaward, touch hand to head and feel the heat absorbed by dark hair, as if somehow this is an unexpected comfort. Your eyes catch the shimmer in the ripples of the sea and you imagine yourself one day out there, gliding back and forth on a paddle board, hair a little less dark, but mind a little more relaxed, in the autumn of your days. This is where we come to relax, reflect, to dream, to escape, to forget.

Not a lot of explanation needed here, really. It’s a poem about our favourite beach. You have to take the cliff-top coastal path for about ten minutes, until you get there. I think that puts some people off as it’s quite tiring if you’re carrying a day’s worth of beach gear for everyone. It’s worth it though.

The cove is on an estuary and when the tide goes out you can have adventures on the newly exposed sand, but you might have to wade out for a while to get there. My children love this.

In short, it’s somewhere we love – we’ve considered buying a holiday cottage there, we love it so much – and it’s a place where I think every one of us is able to relax.

Feel free to let me know what you thought of the poem in the comments. I’m always interested in hearing what people think.

It’s time for a new teaching year…and I’m stressed out already!

backtoschool

From next week thousands of people will be returning to a place that they most likely have a love hate relationship with. A place that, while it brings them fantastic highs and untold joy, will also land upon them terrible amounts of stress and enough moments of disbelief in a typical couple of months to last a lifetime. Sounds like a cross between a crack den and a soft play centre, doesn’t it? Well in fact, I’m talking about school.

After 6 weeks of summer holidaying – or if you’re British, dodging downpours – us teachers (and other school staff) are set to return to work. Most, for any number of reasons, will be dreading it, which is something that lots of non teaching folk and those who don’t work in education simply refuse to understand. Well, allow me to explain.

You’d expect that after six weeks worth of holidays that we’d be fully relaxed, re-invigorated and enthusiastic to go back to work. And I’ve no doubt that some staff are exactly like that. These people are not to be trusted in my humble opinion. Wrong ‘uns, the lot of them.

This next academic year will be my twentieth in teaching. It’s a job I love – no two days are the same, there are highs and lows aplenty, there are some great people – we’ll leave the not-so-great ones for later – and working with kids will always make you smile. But I’m not one of the teachers who don’t mention the pull of the holidays. Thirteen weeks a year and I can honestly say I genuinely think that it’s still not quite enough. Every half term will leave me exhausted and so any time off is largely spent recuperating, rather than enjoying myself. I’ve never spent 6 hedonistic weeks in Ibiza or somewhere partaking in copious amounts of drugs and free love. More likely, I’ll watch a bit more telly and try in vain to do jobs around the house. For me, the holidays are vital.

So conversely, I find the going back to work bit quite the ballache. Now teacher or not teacher, I know what you’re thinking. Or at least the kind of thing you’re thinking. It’ll be within a ball park that contains outrage, a feeling of negativity towards my perceived ingratitude and probably the odd utterance of that strange phrase ‘Man up‘. I don’t care. And furthermore, I have plenty of colleagues and friends who don’t care either.

An old Head of mine used to compare teaching to being on an oil rig. The feeling being that mentally, we’d be completely out of reach for our families during term time, as if we were offshore, almost. It was a particularly challenging school, by the way. As each term ended she’d tell us to switch off, go back to our families and loved ones and spend precious time with them. So if you don’t like my trepidation about going back to work then you’re heartless; I’m off to a bloody oil rig, for Christs’s sakes.

Psychologically, the problems with going back to work can start at any time during the six weeks holidays. And we’ll all have suffered with it. I’m talking of course about the anxiety dreams. You’re sitting in front of a class who just won’t listen. They’re all laughing hysterically at you, even the nice kids. Especially the nice kids! Whatever you try, fails. And try as you might these kids just won’t listen or do what you ask. You might even end up in tears in front of them, pathetically calling out things like, ‘Guys?‘ (always as a question). Inevitably you’ll wake up in a cold sweat, heart racing and possibly in need of a parent. But that parent can’t help. You’re going to repeat that dream – possibly exactly the same dream – a good few times before stepping back over the threshold of your school again in September.

As a rule, I don’t suffer too badly with the anxiety dream and the out of control class. In fact, I usually save mine up for one big nightmare on the eve of my return to work, resulting in me going back looking worse and more exhausted than when we broke up for the six weeks! This year though, has been different. I’ve had a number of these dreams and every last one has left me sat in our bathroom, sweating and trying to yoga-breathe my way to some kind of tranquil mindset that will enable me to sleep again.

The worst one actually started quite well. I’m in control of the class, cracking the odd joke, everyone enjoying their learning and Mr Crosby is kind of a big deal around these parts. And then, slowly but surely, things fall apart. The odd bit of calling out, some general low level disruption. And just when it looks like I’m about to wrestle back control, a boy the height of a giraffe gets up and wanders into my cupboard before emerging again wearing a lampshade as a hat and wandering aimlessly around my room. Every time I try to get to him, he appears back in the cupboard. Try as I might, Giraffe-Boy Lampshade Head just will not listen. And you don’t get that in your council office, your accountancy practice or your supermarket. It’s not you sitting naked – sorry, fight that image, think of giraffe boy – sweating on the edge of a bath considering doing warrior pose or downward dog in order to get back to sleep.

The next thing that can contribute to a dread of going back to work seems like a nice thing, but in fact, it’s not. As an adult, I thought that those signs telling me that it’s ‘Back to School’ soon were no longer applicable. And then I went into teaching and found that every summer the lure of those Back to School signs and their promise of stationery was to prove all too much. Stationery is a huge part of life as a teacher. At least I hope it is and that it’s not just me clinging on to shiny notebooks and refusing to grow up! Even now, after nearly twenty years in the job, I still get a little bit excited at the thought of new pens, highlighters, markers and the like come September. And I still enter Asda with a spring in my step at the prospect of a rollback on notebooks and plastic wallets.

However, while the acquisition of such things is a delight it will quickly lead to stress. Now I’m aware that this is probably just a particular foible of mine, but there is a possibility that somewhere, within the educational community there are more of us. So let’s see how many people find themselves nodding along to this. The fact is I get ridiculously precious about my new stationery and as a result I tend to stockpile it. I become like a stationery squirrel, with drawers of pens, pencils, notebooks, folders and files that are so lovely I’ll allow no one to us them; including me. Sometimes the teacher in the adjoining room to mine – a friend I’ve known for years – will pop in searching for a pen and I reluctantly agree to get one, slowly ripping opening the packet with a rictus smile spread across my chops as I attempt to hide the fact that this is killing me! Lately pupils have started to ask if they can have a plastic wallet, something I have hundreds of. They need them to carry certain notes around and I then have to pretend that it’s no problem and that of course they can have a plastic wallet, when really, hidden just beneath the surface the real Mr Crosby is screaming, ‘GET YOUR OWN PLASTIC BLOODY WALLETS!’ But of course I look forward to going back to work and of course I’m sure that my behaviour is fairly normal. Whichever way we look at it though, the pursuit of the perfect stationery can be a particularly stressful thing for us educators.

Another one of the stresses, one of the painful adjustments that needs to be made by people in education returning to work can be found with clothing. Imagine that, for a 6 week period almost everything you wore was casual. You got up in the morning, and dependent on the weather, you slung on a crumpled pair of jeans or shorts and a t-shirt. If you had to go out, you wore trainers, almost exclusively. And sometimes, just sometimes, you didn’t even bother to give your hair – and maybe even your make-up, although I personally like to spend at least a week in summer dressed as Ziggy Stardust, just for kicks – a second glance. Now you may not admit it, but this would be a world of bliss. Except for the Ziggy themed days, which frankly can be a pain in the arse. Go on, give it some thought…

Nice, isn’t it?

I haven’t ironed a shirt for over 6 weeks. And, let me tell you, when I do iron a shirt I’m pretty damn precise. No corners are cut and each one can take quite some time. So my break away from this is absolutely fantastic. The same can be said for polishing shoes. I haven’t even looked at my work shoes for the entire summer. I’ve slobbed around in Stan Smiths, Nike runners and even flip flops without a care in the world. I’ve worn t-shirts and shorts for days on end – different ones, I’m not an animal. I’ve gone sockless, like some kind of ageing surfer. And now, within hours, I’ll be back in a routine of wearing a suit, shirt, tie and brogues five days a week. All of this formality – and I love to look smart – weighs me down. I don’t miss the days of suddenly remembering, I need to iron a shirt. But I’ll miss not putting a great deal of thought into what I wear. I know, that as an adult – almost a fully functioning one as well – I shouldn’t find any stress in this, but I do. And you would too if you were annually given a massive break from it.

Lots of people don’t realise something really, vitally important about the summer break. And when they find out the truth, it can prove difficult to handle. But, for the uninitiated, here it is. We get paid for the time off. It’s a question I’m quite often asked and when I answer that yes, of course we get paid it can lead to meltdown for some. And while I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of this fact here, I would ask this. If you got paid to take 6 weeks off work, every year and do anything you liked, or even nothing at all, would you miss that when it was gone? It’s simplistic and almost boastful, but I really, really like getting paid for not going to work. It’s not just what gets taken away that makes returning to work for those in education a stressful and sometimes even miserable time. Undoubtedly, what happens when you get there can grind you down as well.

After 6 weeks away from work we inevitably return to what’s referred to as a ‘training day’. Now without swearing it’s hard to express my negativity about these days adequately. But, suffice to say, I’m not a fan. Training days used to be relaxed affairs. You’d have an initial all staff meeting, a department meeting and then be left to your own devices to get organised. This meant that the pay-off for sitting through two mind numbing meetings was the joy of pottering. Bliss. And it meant that I had time to sort out everything I needed in order to be ready for the new term. But not anymore.

Nowadays, with education it would seem moving in a far more corporate direction, training days are…what’s the phrase? Oh yes…’a massive pain in the arse’. An all staff meeting can last hours while various people tell you about things like ‘vision’ and ‘missions’ while referring to you all as ‘guys’. So lots of my favourite words then. The schedule that you’re given might as well come with a match to destroy it as time and again people talk beyond their slot, so to speak. And that’s not necessarily a criticism – when talking in class or conducting an assembly or a staff briefing I inevitable run over time while getting carried away at the thought of just bunging in another joke or better still, talking about myself. But after 6 weeks away from the job, I’m not in the mood – or headspace if you’re under thirty – to be talked at. In fact, I’m probably not listening. And I’m not the only one. You, dear colleague, are probably not listening either, so that later when we get together in another meeting, none of us has the first clue about where we work anymore, let alone our ‘vision’.

On the first day back at work I will almost certainly be given a schedule of where I have to be at any given moment during the day. And, when I read said schedule, I’d bet my mortgage that I will whine like a small child something along the lines of ‘Why do I have to go to that?’ And this is because, after 6 weeks gone rogue, I have regressed to kidult. And now this kidult is being forced to behave like a proper adult once more. Three days previously I was playing Scalectrix with a ten year old or burying my face in a chocolate muffin while watching ‘A Place in the Sun’ or ‘Homes Under The Hammer’ and now someone far more skilled at adulthood is banging on about their mission. Don’t tell me that 6 weeks off is long enough!

It gets worse. At some point you will be faced with a mad scramble to gather together things like exercise books, a diary, a planner, pens etc. Bloody stationery again! Inevitably, you will get to a store cupboard to find it’s already been ransacked by the dreaded young, enthusiastic colleagues who were ticking it all off their desk planner while you stared at your classroom walls for a moment that turned into 20 minutes! But it’s OK, because you will rise above this stress and have the last laugh by entering their classrooms once they’ve gone home, to pilfer the books that you missed out on, while telling yourself that your 20 years service to the teaching profession allows you such privilege! Little do you know, that you’ve forgotten to pick up any of the set texts you’re meant to be teaching, because year in year out, you don’t actually look at your desk planner.

More stress will come in the shape of things that others have planned for you. For instance, I dread the Duty Rota email like no other email across the year. Even writing about it makes my blood run cold. Will I get outside duties again? Because believe me, winter in deepest Dewsbury is like, well…summer in Dewsbury really. Rain, wind and more rain. And then there’s the issue of who else is on duty. Will I share a duty, will I know this person, will I have to actually speak to them? This year I’ve been blessed in that although I’ve been outside I’ve had good company. Someone of a similar cynical mindset to me (cheers Paul). But what awaits me this year? In terms of conversation I only really do subjects like football, music, football and moaning. And so if I’m lumped together with someone, what do I talk about? I mean perish the thought that someone wants to talk about education. And what if it’s one of those younger members of staff, someone in their twenties? I can’t escape the fact that I may well have to stand on duty with someone who I’m old enough to be the dad of. What can I talk about? These people are off living a life, going out, travelling, seeing bands, while I’m inevitably battling for control of the telly with a teenager at home. It may well be easier to just see the doctor and get signed off with stress at this rate! (If you work in HR, that’s a joke. I’ll explain jokes at a later date, but I’m not going to get signed off work with stress).

And there may well be other surprise bits of responsibility. Because while I know that the Duty Rota is coming, it’s not beyond a more senior colleague to have a surprise up their sleeves with my name on it. In the past for instance I’ve been assigned as a ‘buddy’ for newer members of staff. That’s right, me, a buddy. Imagine being so shit at life that you got me as a buddy. I think I managed to catch up with this person twice across the year, partly because I’m fairly useless, but also because they had already been assigned a mentor. And so I spent far too much of the year worrying that I wasn’t really helping, while simultaneously wondering what my job might be as a buddy. If it happens again I truly feel for the poor thing that’s landed with me. I’m not exactly sociable or talkative, I’m fairly certain I can’t solve your crisis and I have a tendency to furtively leave the room when colleagues cry. I’m genuinely shy and don’t actually like meeting new people. Clearly someone sees something in me that I simply haven’t got. Some buddy! But this is the kind of thing that we face in those first days back.

Once the initial training day is over we’re then left with facing new classes. And this truly is a battle of wills. Pupils are trying things out to see how much they can get away with while I’m, as usual, maintaining a heavily sarcastic streak and well, seeing how much I can get away with, really. If I have a Year 7 class I always feel that I have to appear ever so slightly cheery and friendly, which again is quite the battle due to the fact that I’m not in the least bit cheery or friendly, but I have to make the effort in their early days at ‘big school’. After all, by the time they reach Year 8 I’ll simply be a familiar grizzled and sarcastic figure for them so the odd smile at this point probably isn’t going to harm any of us. It does add to the stress of the return to work though.

Further worry will arrive in the form of new seating plans and trying to work out just the right mix of pupils in order to keep classes stable. This is complicated by the need to have certain types of pupil sat in certain areas in order to keep any observers happy when they look at data. Ridiculous really. And another time consuming exercise that for at least one of my classes will be inevitable forgotten about for far too long, resulting in chaos every time they walk in and find that there’s still no seating plan. Later, I’ll kid them that it was a deliberate ploy, designed to allow me to observe behaviour, friendship groups etc in order to create the perfect seating plan…eventually.

So there you have it. Having had 6 weeks off work many of us will feel nothing like going back, however much we love what we do. And many more people will not understand the stress. But this time next week, I for one, will be back to being Scrooge, although I mot likely won’t have collected the texts.

Is it too early to start counting down the week until October half-term?