3.4 The Frills Begin to Fray

The end is nigh.  A year spent living in the back of a van, mid-week, away from home, away from the wife, comfort and company.

The nights have been strange of late.  The light has peaked.  I leave later and later from school just because there’s something odd, sad, pitiful and self-loathing about parking up in my hidden places in the clear light of day.  Arriving in the darkness and shutting myself away has been so much easier.

In the light I’m on show and out of place.  A sad man in his van camping on a bed on the floor.  A little more comfortable than a shop’s entranceway. No frills, no allure.  The poetry

stops.

The window blinds, kindly donated, go up, but it’s just not right.  Of course I leave the tin shelter and walk.  Watch the sunset, walk the cliff path.  But still, I feel on display.  I feel driven from my shelter by the light.  The routine creates worry now, rather than contentment.  I was happy working, marking, eating, sleeping, waking, repeat.  Now there’s an interruption and the needle jumps the groove.

The second night of the week I park up again.  The same spot as last night.  The engine goes quiet and I look out and see a sign.

“No motorhomes or campers 23 hundred till 08 hundred hours”

Thanks to a plentiful diet of wartime films on a Sunday afternoon I understand this.  I’m in contravention of the rules.

A new sign.

I’ve made it the whole year till now feeling as though I wasn’t treading on any toes, but now I clearly will be.  I’m not a motor-home though.  But am I a camper?  I don’t have a tent and this isn’t a camper-van.  It’s your bog standard white panel van.  If you needed a man, I’d come with a van.  The only reason my wife took any interest in my online dating profile.

On a technicality I could be okay here.  But.

The paranoia of vulnerability, mixed with the clear, clear light sets in.

Nevertheless I decide to chance it.  I do, however, prepare for discovery and flight.

I wear a pyjama top (a shalwar kameez.  Or long shirt top to me and you) ready for the off.

The sign read 23.00 hours.  At 23.30 a car pulls in.  The lights drag past my rear view and I leap into action.  From my darkened dive I observe.  They park a little way away.  It’s now too dark to see any signage.  No indication of who this is.  I waste little time, taking it for a sign and hop bare-bottomed into the driver’s seat.  The engine hums, I pull out and escape.

But I don’t go far.  Wary that this is just my paranoia playing with me.  I’m parked in half an acre of darkened parking and I’m the only one there.  Have they really come for me?

I park near the road and pull on my shorts and trainers; no time for pants or socks.  Then I retrace my retreat, find a bush and stand watch.

It’s not as if this is the first time a car has pulled in to this particular secluded park-up so late.  Up till now I had assumed they were ne’er-do-wells of one description or another.  Uninterested in me and more interested in midnight fidgets and fumbles or the inhalation of weedy puffs.

But these ne’er-do-wells could be the real deal.  The council.

The story is, across county, the second homeowners are calling the shots and the council are hot to take action against anyone hoping for an early morning surf or enjoying a semi-wild camp out.  Recent planning applications sprang up at one local favourite spot; local interests clashed with the two-week holiday slots of anyone from Surrey and the council gave way to holiday money.

I stand in my bush, and time ticks by, expecting an exit and hoping for a resumption of my slumber.  Eventually I give in and head to my back up ground. It’s 1am. Dreams come quickly.

In the morning I leave earlier than usual in order to scout out other camp spots I’ve heard tell of, and discover a sea view a stone’s throw from the school gates and make plans for the night.

That night the caretaker appears on the corridor with a cricket stump.  We greet each other.  I make the necessary enquiry.  Apparently the Zumba class has been disturbed by foreign gentleman, rather less than sober.  They could be anywhere.  Details emerge.  A campsite has been observed by the school boundary line.  I offer to drive round the site to see what I can see, but see nothing.  On my return we discover the campers.  I’m in a dilemma.  My brethren are at the gates.  From twenty yards two things are immediately obvious: they are asleep (the snores are testament to this) and they are well-oiled.  I’ve never smelt alcohol from such a distance.

These men have unwittingly pitched a tent in a not-so-concealed spot, that, at 8am will be fairly obvious to any passing pupil as will the abundance of wine bottles.  The police are called.  The gentlemen are cuffed, cautioned.  Their English is good and they competently punctuate each sentence with an expletive.  Eventually they move on after complaining about the Zumba music.  Her majesty’s constabulary and I chat while we watch them disappear into the distance.  He too is a camper.  He too has a VW; his a T5, mine a T4. We’re not quite hand twins.

We watch our less fortunate comrades fade into hedgerows and silently recognise the moment and its note of hypocrisy.

He leaves and so do I, to a windy cliffside pitch and a rosy sunset.

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If you are enjoying this journey then please follow through WordPress, sign up for email notifications when there is a new blog post. You can also find me on Twitter @tin_teacher or on Instagram through Tincanteacher

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to get in touch and share your responses to the adventure my wife and I are on. Mental health is a rising issue for many and this blog has been, in many ways, a life saver, as has the feedback.

If you missed the article in The Guardian you can find it here:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/16/teacher-live-back-van-personal-story-anonymous#comments

3.3 Preparing the Next Course

Next course please. Yes. More of the same.

The exam season is almost at an end.

For us, in English, it is. Done. Dusted. Just the ‘dar-dar-dar-DAH-DE-DAR-DAH-DE-DAR’ of the approaching Imperial Cruiser to wait upon now.

August’s end. The end for some and new hopes for others.

Now’s the time to crank up the pressure on Year 10. Put the scare into them. I’ve had a year of Year 11s only partly engaged in the hyperdrive to GCSE success. The stalwarts who stuck with it will be fine, but I despair for that kid who delighted only in leaning back on his chair legs and the other who can pull all topics round to inappropriate sex references, or entertain with his random stories of finding sheep on the front porch in the middle of the night. It was entertaining, but my blood rose. I remember it rising.

I took year 11 on from another, mid-journey. But my Year 10s; they’re all mine. From start to finish. Strike while the iron’s hot, and it’s hot now.

I lay out the year ahead and provide appropriate anecdotes of success and failure helped by the past ten years of memorable howlers:

  • The kid who turned up late, out of school uniform, and was turned away. Probably a good thing due to his obvious intoxication.
  • The kid who was late, still in bed and only came in because the head of Year went and fetched her.
  • The one who just wrote “I don’t know” on a 30 mark question.
  • The other who answered every 26 mark question when only one was needed. This is not as uncommon as you might think.
  • The one who put their lack of written material down to the invigilators’ squeaky shoes.
  • And, lastly, that kid who just drew pictures over the 12 pages of the exam booklet.

“This won’t be you.” I declare. Reassuring myself more than anything else.

Our little horde face a multitude of hurdles. They’re carers; mum’s ill ; dad’s ill; they’re ill; they have jobs; they work on the farm and dad relies on them to be out at 6.30am with the sheep; they don’t have access to the internet at home; they take their brothers, their sisters to school and sometimes get them ready in the mornings. They have social commitments.

In the week of my rant I’m given one bottle of Prosecco, one bottle of cab sav and a box of posh chocs, but the card of thanks is the thing I love the most, especially from that quiet one, the one you gradually begin to think must hate you. Small successes. Some acknowledgment. The child who looks back and recognises the A Level Lit decision came down to our little year 9 class many moons ago. Gold.

The season of sweat and tears is almost entirely over and early lunches will be gone. Come exam season we move lunch to midday causing major issues of fatigue for the last two periods of the day after a pasta lunch. Eyes flutter and we, pupil and Titan, struggle in equal apportionment. But now that is over and we go back to the default settings. Pupils and teachers, alike, can look forward to just one more hour of breathless wonder before the home bell sounds.

Then.

Roll on marking time. Books. Mocks. Printing. Emails. Phone calls home:

“Is your child feeling alright at the moment?”

“Why d’you ask?”

“Maybe because they were late three times in the morning and haven’t done their homework for over a week.”

“She had homework?”

“Yes. There is an online facility that you will have been made aware of at the start of the year so that you know when homework is set, what it is and when it is due.”

“We don’t have a computer.”

“Do you have a smartphone?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s an app.”

So many things are filtered from this conversation. I probably change the filter at least once, maybe twice during the course.

It’s not easy. The pulls on the threads of time come from every direction. Ours and theirs.

We ask: where does the learning really take place?

We have them for at least 30 hours of the week. There are 168 in a week. With an average 8 hours sleepy-time that leaves 112 hours, less 30 hours in school: 82 hours, or 3.41666667r days a week of time outside of school.

So when year 10 ask (because they’re good like that) what they can do to prepare now, for next year, I say: 1 hour. Give up one hour a week.

When you’re eating dinosaurs, you have to do it one bite at a time.

Plus they take ages to cook.

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If you are enjoying this journey then please follow through WordPress, sign up for email notifications when there is a new blog post. You can also find me on Twitter @tin_teacher or on Instagram through Tincanteacher

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to get in touch and share your responses to the adventure my wife and I are on. Mental health is a rising issue for many and this blog has been, in many ways, a life saver, as has the feedback.

If you missed the article in The Guardian you can find it here:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/16/teacher-live-back-van-personal-story-anonymous#comments

3.2 Glue Sticks and Stalkers

These roads aren’t suitable for the likes of you

The season speeds on and at the start of the week I race on over to school. The alarm goes at 5.30 am.

It’s my warning alarm.

It buzzes and I silence it. Squash.

At 5.45 the next one goes and I begin to roll towards the edge and, by 6, I’m out.

Showered and changed by 6.15, kissed and blessed by my wife.

At 6.20 the toast pops, Sky News whirrs in the background and at 6.30 a.m. I’m driving.

At the beginning of this it was much darker in the mornings and the darkness seemed to punctuate the day; dark at my day’s opening and dark at its end. This endless light is unnatural now and the lack of demarcation by orbit and axis only confuses.

Thirty minutes into the journey I encounter difficulty: road rage.

I cross a roundabout and a dark shadow tries to creep in alongside my passenger side forcing me into oncoming traffic. I trust to the 2 tons of tin, sound the horn and continue onwards. He flashes and beeps furiously. Between this point and the next road I have another 30 minutes to contemplate my manoeuvre, but find no complaint. For 30 minutes he follows, sometimes at a distance, at others he laps at my exhaust. Finally I find an opportunity to pass the lorry in front and put some serious tonnage between us. My paranoia eases and I plough on until there he is again.

I eventually come to the dual carriageway and put pedal to metal and race to my next turn off, fighting off the paranoia. I turn. All is safe. He is nowhere to be seen.

Ten minutes in, he’s back.

The route I take to school isn’t one many others would follow and the fact he’s been with me now for the last 50 miles is perturbing.

I know the road and plan. Various tv theme tunes intrude and I pull off. He passes.

Paranoia.

Ah blessed paranoia.

I rejoin the road and there he is. In the lay-by. Waiting.

I mentally note his registration and Mad Max-like, sans bondage apparel, throom on by heading to the next rise and the farm entrance that I know is there, but, hopefully, he doesn’t. It works. I pull in but he doesn’t see. I watch him pass and rejoin the road. He gradually disappears into the horizon and I cruise into work.

I still park out of view of the road though, just in case.

The entire night I imagine a banged up Vauxhall rolling into my nightly hidey-hole, engine roaring monstrously, lights on beam.

It reminds me of how vulnerable I know I am, know that I feel, but dismiss for the sake of a restful night’s sleep. Four walls, in my dreams, are castle-like with sentries at every corner.

The next day the routine pulls me back in and the kids delight at every turn. My GCSE group seem to be getting it. Up till now thorns of terror seemed to envelop us, but we’re there and it’s time. A perfect storm. My midweek point ends with glueing and sticking and one boy telling me he can fit his ears into the glue lids. My eyebrows raise:

“I can. I can get my ears inside the glue lids.” He assures and proceeds to interpret my raised eyebrow as the starter’s pistol of challenge.

He can.

Both of them.

Comfortably.

These last months all we’ve been interested in is testing children to our prescribed diet of achievement, but today there’s room for recognising and acknowledging the bizarre too. Our measures are those of the adult world, theirs’ are their own and they are unique for it.

The next day begins with a lovely email from the PE department. I haven’t seen the missing high jump pole they are missing, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

My last night, before heading home the following day, I disturb hidden lovers in the night’s choice of park up. A Mini, not a Vauxhall.

I roll by and park up as far away as I can, but that’s it for them. They head off sheepishly. There’s a lay-by up the road. I’m sure they’ll be fine.

In the night I hear strange sounds and imagine tapping. The Vauxhall driver. Thankfully, it turns out to be the blackouts on the window and the suckers detaching. I spit and reapply.

I’ll be home tomorrow.

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If you are enjoying this journey then please follow through WordPress, sign up for email notifications when there is a new blog post. You can also find me on Twitter @tin_teacher or on Instagram through Tincanteacher

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to get in touch and share your responses to the adventure my wife and I are on. Mental health is a rising issue for many and this blog has been, in many ways, a life saver, as has the feedback.

If you missed the article in The Guardian you can find it here:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/16/teacher-live-back-van-personal-story-anonymous#comments

3.1 A New Season and an Old, Bad Man. Part 2

I’ve spent the last few weeks fluttering and flittering from one intervention to the next; answering worry, question and sigh one at a time. How can pupils still ask what is on the paper? It’s been two years. Winks of light speak up through the foggy darkness and concerns calm.

Year 11 dominate the staff room chatter and we pour out our woes and worries. We curse He Who Shall Not Be Named and call upon the stars and the gods. There has been a noticeable increase in sugary items brought in by our fresh-faced, brand new and shiny head of department. It eases the thickness of the air.

I remind myself I’m not piloting the boat. The only thing I can be is the albatross following my little ships as they venture ever closer to shore, hoping they don’t try and shoot me when the wind dies. Currents can be unkind and curses can cut deep. I’m buoyed up one afternoon after two hours of intervention. No less than 10 stalwarts attend and suddenly learning seems alive again. I realise we’ve been in a quagmire on the last frantic furlong. Discussion of themes, meanings and Shakespeare’s position on men, women and the supernatural bubble up and wink at the brim.

This is what the old, bad man has done: stagnation. Since the Change our pupils have been asked to perform Herculean feats that do not tally with what was asked of their predecessors. There’s nothing wrong with rigour and the pursuit of excellence, ideas usurped by the old, bad man – after all, who can argue with a robust education curriculum that challenges the best of ’em?

The application is the problem and a two party state of interest and ability is the result. The disenfranchised struggle more than ever. On the surface they are handed every leg up, crutch and push we can find, but when we wallow in a curriculum that bleeds enthusiasm and love of the subject it’s easy to lose that vital sense of purpose.

Poverty is the biggest hindrance in our society. I lose count of the number of texts that invite a study of the Human Condition. Discussions reveal much. I simplify the ideas for the chérubins rooted in front of me into three questions, just as my teacher had (hallowed be his name):

  1. Where did we come from?
  2. Why are we here?
  3. Where are we going?

The lunch hour often witnesses staff curse the living air with 2 and 3.

The divide is clear. And the divider is clearer. I can rely on finding that pupils from a low income background have rarely considered this, while others click. There’s always a middle ground, but the polarisation is stark. My heart silently breaks when faces happily confess they’ve never thought about it.

“What’s the point, Sir?”

That is the point, I think.

Have they accepted a prescribed destiny?

Are they pressing the levers and pulling the cords blindly themselves?

The workload is frightening. Who wouldn’t balk at the hurdles’ heights?

My week’s load is lightened when a tutee brings in cakes for all.

“What’s this in aid of?” I ask.

“It is your birthday, isn’t it Sir?”

A box of fairy cakes, easily wider than her torso is held by tiny hands.

“Yes it is.”

She offers me one and distributes the rest to the tutor group. A golden moment and an excellent cake. There are spares and I receive a second when all have been handed out. We live in the legacy of the old, bad man, but kindness is still alive and sweet, with a frosty topping, and I have a feeling she knows why she is here.

I dismiss the masses and glide to a double lesson with the year group who are thick in the fray.

I pray to God.

What good are the stars and the lesser gods other than for the frill and flower of poetry and metaphor?

He Who Shall Not Be Named perhaps thought himself one such star, the mover and shaker of fortune, and to a frightful extent he has been, and fortunes shattered and splintered around us.

Though I despair at times, his word shall not be the last.

This generation has a voice too.

To celebrate renewed hope, renewed resistance, I take the van for a hose down and dirty white becomes mildly glossy candy-white with a hint of rust.

3.0 A New Season and an Old, Bad Man. Part 1

In the eye of the brave and the foolish

I got the job. The week before the Easter break I was walking on eggshells. The day of the interview rose with fearful trepidation and fell in rays of shepherds’ delight. The title was mine. Is mine. The mighty London Titan, the feared competition, was defeated. Done. Kaput.

I breathe sigh upon sigh of relief and so do the kids.

The Easter break is like sinking into a warm bath, think Herbal Essences without the suggestive groans of inappropriate contentment, and staying there undisturbed. We rest for a week before venturing out on holiday: our dreams say sun, sea, sand, but our pockets say Wales.

The ground comes rushing up to my feet, to our feet, and before you can say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch we’re back in the fray of fiends and friends and the occasional fiendish friend.

The first week back is a shock to the system and not just because we have a new Head teacher joining us after the summer, or that we have a new Head of department, wellies on and waist-deep, but because I have only brought two pairs of pants away with me to make it through the week and the school shower is on the fritz. I won’t be making it to a sweaty game of squash this week. On the bright side I have plenty of socks.

Halfway through the week I uncover my backups, stashed between a tool bag and a pile of wood in my trampervan. I’m saved. Too many of our children work in the shops around here and I don’t know how I would have felt purchasing underwear from one of my year 10’s. I wisely make a new list for the new term:

  1. Stock up on spare pants, and socks
  2. Stash socks and pants in a more readily accessible corner of the can
  3. Replenish emergency rations of nuts and chocolate
  4. Leave a couple of spare shirts at work, they’re just as important as pants

On discovery of the backup pants the week begins to pick up, briefly.

The summer term is all about Year 11. They’re on the home stretch now. The first GCSE only weeks away, but they still seem to lack the bite and excitement of a horse on the final league. We all pause and wonder if it’s a national concern. Do we have a generation of non-runners? In an email with a parent I share that I hope their child had some fresh air between all the furious revision.

I’m worryingly reassured.

Plenty of fresh air was had:

“We went abroad. Did some revision, yeah, but got out lots thanks.”

(Fluency and command of grammar has been altered to protect the identity of the individual while trying to maintain tone and sense of assurance intended)

This is it. Not much can be done now. It’s their future so I spend lesson after lesson convincing them of the need to fight for it. I set essays, mark essays, set essays, mark essays. I create an imagined Viking sentinel at the drum and he beats out a rhythm to the steady sink of the oar and pull, and pull and pull and pull as I mark, mark, mark.

The sea is rough.

One morning a boy tells me not to worry so much. He intends to win the lottery. He sums up the apathy and the reliance on chance, but he’s really only conveying his fear. Before his attitude takes root. I tell him.

I tell them all. There’s only one lottery worth entering:

“The only lottery I ever won was when I met my wife.”

Most of them get the point and they work. Gradually it catches on.

The truth is, this year group, and the ones following, have it harder than previous years. The ladder rungs have been greased and climbers slip and sink. The reliance on memory is paramount; the value on Victorian Literature is far and above, and the list of those writing in English of Britishness is bitterly terse and the shortlist the bad man provided is nothing other than a blight for both teacher and pupils.

But how else to weaken the masses than rely on a blight?

Years ago the big bad man came along. We don’t say his name. He changed the system. Bad men like him had changed it before and he didn’t like it. So he changed it. He took away the system that enabled children to achieve and disenfranchised them. He cut and he hacked until the vine toppled and only wingéd angels could fly from this earth to clouded heights above in some sort of predestined gamble of luck or fitful ambition. The children left behind were left behind to languor in disenchantment while education lost its enchantment and its enchanters.

This is a narrative that holds truth, but I refuse to swallow it.

Swish, swash. The magic wand will have its day.

I imagine the term ahead as a warrior-teacher, a bandelero of board pens over one shoulder and my pockets filled with spare pens because “Sir, I don’t have a pen” has become part of the day’s mantra and I can either Ryu-Ken sonic punch the child, or hand them a Bic.

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If you are enjoying this journey then please follow through WordPress, sign up for email notifications when there is a new blog post. You can also find me on Twitter @tin_teacher or on Instagram through Tincanteacher

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to get in touch and share your responses to the adventure my wife and I are on. Mental health is a rising issue for many and this blog has been, in many ways, a life saver, as has the feedback.

If you missed the article in The Guardian you can find it here:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/16/teacher-live-back-van-personal-story-anonymous#comments

2.5 Providence Provides

I teach 80 miles from home, live away, bedding down in an increasingly rusty van, currently with three oil leaks, a window that won’t roll down, a broken aerial courtesy of your friendly neighbourhood unmentionable, and iffy power steering juddering at every turn. And, I’m contemplating extending this excursion, moving ever forward into an undiscovered country, though I do plan to return, at the weekend, to a smile and a hug from my loving and eternally patient wife. My application is in and I have been shortlisted.

Despite the less than glamorous lifestyle I’ve decided to have another swing in the crease. My wife approves. I want to stay at the school I love, the school I redeemed a career at; to live on in the van past the hitherto arranged tin can’s expiration date.

I made it through the coldest nights. I can do it again. The dice has been thrown.

The interview brief lands in my inbox. ‘Prepare and deliver a lesson on the unseen poetry section of the English Literature paper for AQA; use The Tyger by William Blake.

Right.

I spend a night editing and submit my lesson for print, I add sheen and gloss, I cut and stitch and click ‘send’. Colleagues discuss the competition. Talk and gossip of ‘The Teacher from London’ rises and there is little ebb of such talk. An impressive CV, a number of responsibilities held, used to attend the school, a bright pupil, remembered fondly. At each word I wince. All I can think is that if she teaches in London she must be good, otherworldly, a towering Titan with the patience of a hallowed and holy saint.

The day comes. The field has been cut and four of us are left standing, ready to impress, appropriately dressed. I remember one member of the senior team has a penchant for shoes and careers rise or fall at the click of a heel. I slip out of my my slip-ons and into the shoes reserved mostly for weddings.

Before I can strut the stuff, a photoshoot looms. The Guardian want a shot of me, the van, the grime and, even though there is little time, I oblige. An hour hour before the day of tribulation, interviews, observations and stirring enthusiasm uttered at every turn I pull up in a lay-by, a grey car flashes its lights, I flash mine, aware of the reputation hereabouts regarding such etiquette. Fingers crossed, I exit the van and meet my man. It’s an instant hit, he surfs too; the fondness grows.

Click, clack, close up, wide lens, short lens, stumpy lens, one thoughtful gaze after the next carefully hidden, anonymity guaranteed: an hour passes. We’re done. We shake. We part ways. It was my first time.

Moments later I’m back at school. The tributes have arrived and are on tour with the Head. It doesn’t take long to track them down. I’ve known the school for a good while. I’ve done my stint, but it would be a missed opportunity to not cruise the corridors with the competition, miss out out on knowing nods from passing pupils. Now is the time to assert, parade and swagger; I’m not a natural peacock, but a moment ago, in a lay-by not so far away I got the taste. This is my job and I shall not go quietly.

As it goes, we see no children on our tour, no imagined mid-air high fives for me. No affirmation at all and my confidence gets a kick, until the Head explains my late entrance. A certain newspaper article is mentioned; a certain photoshoot explains my tardiness and sudden appearance. I hide the blush and engage humility mode. At the end of it all they need the best candidate for the current and changing climate and if that’s not me, I get it. The clockwork of Necessity is cold. I know this.

The day ticks along.

The lesson goes well. Pupils engage. Every one. There are smiles and even room for some banter. Tensions ease and children deconstruct The Tyger bit by bit, stripe by stripe.

But between this and the interview there is a gulf of time. I’m last on the list. I sit alone in the staff room marking books for a some of it, take a walk around school too, half of me saying goodbye as I go, until, eventually, I pop into an open classroom and am invited to team teach. I step in and remember this is where I belong, at least I think so.

The interview comes and in a flash is over. Faces I’ve known for years sit in judgement but they can’t see my shoes.

An hour later and I’m off.

Four miles down the road I get the call.

Though there is little that is flash-able about the van, I do have Bluetooth.

Fists pump the air on a windy country road. The job is mine. Full time.

The London Titan and other tributes have fallen. Only another 76 miles till I can tell my love of the future ahead.

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If you are enjoying this journey then please follow through WordPress, sign up for email notifications when there is a new blog post. You can also find me on Twitter @tin_teacher or on Instagram through Tincanteacher

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to get in touch and share your responses to the adventure my wife and I are on. Mental health is a rising issue for many and this blog has been, in many ways, a life saver, as has the feedback.

If you missed the article in The Guardian you can find it here:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/16/teacher-live-back-van-personal-story-anonymous#comments

2.3 Knights in the Darkness, Light in the Days

I’ve survived 7 months living in the van, discovering one darkened car park after another. I imagine the day I’ll be parking on a beach, looking out to sea, waxing my board in some romantic Pintagram vision of what teaching could allow life to be; leaving at 3.30pm to hit the surf and float away upon a sea of dreams, the occasional wave below my feet.

The light is changing. Spring now. Less and less cover for my exclusive and classified camping lifestyle; my spots remain undisclosed to those who ask, but the light is spreading; the darkness of the early nights provided some security from prying eyes and disapproving twitchers, but now I stay later and later at my desk waiting for the eternal eye to drop low and, finally, below the earth’s end.

The darkness has been a comforter, an excuse to stay at my desk, marking, emailing and calling parents. But now the promise of longer evenings stirs temptations as well as dilemmas. The van is by no means luxurious and hasn’t been for a while now. The light is good enough to leave and enjoy a walk along the cliffs, forage wild garlic in the woods and begin to breathe the air away from school, but that setting sun would still force me back into the van earlier than I would like. So I do none of these things. The van life is a freeing experience, but comes with its own set of prison bars.

Up till now I have parked up around 8.30-9pm every night. It leaves me the perfect amount of time to eat, rest up with a book or a download and then sleep. More time than this would make the trampervan lifestyle unbearable. So, I sit at my desk, still, waiting for that window of opportunity, watching that reflected sunset in a neighbour classroom’s window, before parking my bed in the inky shadows.

At the beginning of term I was late to INSET, delayed by three tractors and a road traffic accident with a fourth tractor. I don’t like to be late. I strolled in and sat at the first available table, alone. I hunkered down. No coffee for another two hours. Eyes from the corner watched. Saw a sullen expression and the next day a bag of golden eggs were pressed into my hands. The giver felt I needed a boost. I did. I saved them. Golden treats at lunch for the next two weeks.

The first day’s training brought more than golden eggs. An announcement. The Head is leaving. The decision made, governors informed. Time at the bar. Uncertainty looms, but when is anything ever certain?

More changes loom large. Set changes. Recent tests have illuminated the need to move children to and fro, here and there. I inform them:

“Children, I know not where thou wilt fall, on stony earth or in fertile soil, but some of you are for re-sowing. Your test scores have revealed you are too prodigious for the shores of this class and you outstretch your peers. It’s time to rise (for some of you). It’s also time for some of you weedy roots to fall.” I mutter this last point.

My lesson starter goes to pot. Pupils look from one to the other wondering who’s staying, who’s rising and who’s for the chop. At the close two remain behind. They know they’re going up.

“Sir, we got the top scores, but we don’t want to go up.”

I’m surprised. The chance to rub shoulders with their own kind is being rejected.

“Why’s that girls? Sir is a great teacher and you’ve worked really hard.”

“I never liked English before, but now I find it really exciting.”

This wasn’t what I expected. This is my tricky class, there’s no time for ‘exciting’ English. Targets, behaviour, assessment, reading and occasional banter if we’re lucky. That’s it.

Sensing a stretch activity, I offer one ray of hope. “If you don’t like it, you can always appeal, in writing, to the deputy.”

They leave. Appeased.

I make a note in my little book of ‘Reasons For A Pay Rise’. It’s maybe my second bullet point under the first: ‘Because I’m awesome’. Each bullet is a step closer, but I feel better about the second than the first.

That evening I forget to prepare my porridge for the next day. Usually I add a handful to a cup of milk and leave in the fridge overnight to eat cold with a banana and honey at 7.30 in the morning. When I roll into the shadows I curse myself emphatically. There won’t be anything open at that time to pick up on the way. I’ll have to make it through till break, but it’s a Wednesday and I have a break-time duty. Quelle horreur: lunch isn’t until 1.30pm. Six hours. I don’t even have any chocolate squirrelled away. My curses turn blue.

In the morning a eureka moment lightens my spirit. The hob in the Learning Support Base offers the opportunity to heat the porridge! 7 months and I’ve never thought of this. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

I choose my pot. Empty the oats. Add the milk. Heat the hob. And nip for a quick pee.

Not quick enough.

I return to billowing clouds. I open a window and quickly thrust the pot out into the air.

Save.

A distant bell rings.

Grows louder.

Not quick enough.

I pull the pot back and sink it between a jet of water in the sink before joining the growing crowd at the fire assembly point. It’s 7.50am. There’s a mock exam at 9.15am.

I dismount the stairs and see the caretaker struggling with the fire board. Yellow lights flashing. I raise my hands ready for the shot and shell. I stand in the cold with colleagues who were mid-lesson preparations, coffee, printing, email, loo breaks of their own and just arriving. At first they they think I’m joking. Not attuned to my lifestyle imposed by the van and the commute. When the pennies drop, one after the other, that I am indeed to blame and that I do indeed have breakfast at school, instead of mutters of fury, looks of forgiveness are quickly dished out.

The luck continues when I go to see the business manager and offer to pay the callout charge. There is none. We’ve just changed our policy and I’m quids in. She even offers me a yoghurt to replace my black oats.

The next day I receive a visit from the caretaker. He looks frantic. Peers out of my window and tells me there’s a girl who has gone missing.

“What? Oh, God.”

“She has blonde hair, in braids.”

“What’s her name?”

He turns from the window.

“Goldilocks.”

He smiles and leaves and the day continues, happily.

2.2 Magic Pills in Short Supply

The second half of term has begun. Batteries have been charged and an INSET day introduction to the week dulls the hammer blow. The sight of a lone child walking expectantly to a childless school warms my cockles, particularly as I teach her and now have ready-made tease material for an opportune moment that awaits me.

I’m halfway through the adventure, the challenge and the cold.

Working almost 2 hours from home; living away in a tin can on wheels because the school I teach in is:

A) amazing, and

B) I’m not sure I’d survive anywhere else.

And, as mentioned before, survival is key if you want to live and last another 58 nights in a van before Summer bliss rolls in.

Also, it’s important to remember, not punching children in the face is key. A worthwhile mantra for any hardened educator.

I often wonder what keeps me going after 10 years in the biz, when the number of teachers training and remaining in post has decreased year on year since I entered the field. It’s called the churn. Images of bodies tumbling, drowning, suffocating in a wave foaming into shore is a suitable image.

A tidal wave builds. This time the groaning mouths of children hungry for the entitlement schools offer (or, sadly, an escape from home); after all pupil numbers have increased as teacher numbers disappear like the dead, down into the deep. In 5 years the numbers will be 10% over current figures and those remaining stalwarts, the statuary bedrock will face the swell of the unhappy mob tearing at the paper’s edge, disappearing scissors into murky pencil cases empty of pencils or pens. The hunger for the materials of education already supplant the hunger for inquiry in many children. Sticking in sheets becomes a ten minute activity as a single glue is passed round the fiends itching in their chairs.

The golden prize of a magic pill evades us all, but still, we all flirt with the elusive recipe. One minister after the next hubbles, broadsheet columnists sex up the bubble, but the hurly burly continues despite the ardent salvos from TES writers charged with solving the crisis of boys’ attainment levels, or providing the next acronym on trend, hash-tagging its way through Twitter like a smoking sword, bloodily executing the confidence of those bricked into the bedrock: blocks of granite, tried and tested against the swirling storms of social media gurus.

At Parents Evenings we sit across our desks peddling one cure-all after the next. A parent, her silent child and quiet husband sit across from me and we all stare at a piece of paper stiffly waving with a list of ‘strategies’.

“Have you seen these strategies?” I’m asked.

Words like ‘coloured overlay’ and ‘chunking’ float before me.

A number of responses are immediately censored and filed.

I begin to talk to the child about revision.

“Did you do any before the last test?” I ask.

“No.”

The paper goes limp.

“Are you encouraging him to read at home?” I pursue.

“We have a bookshelf.”

Gradually I shift the emphasis back to the child and his owners, focus shifts away from the five hours of contact time I have over a fortnight to turn his prospects around. Parents become co-conspirators. We’re all part of the recipe, and they leave reminded of their roll in the broth.

Driving behind a gritter that night I meet another coming the other way. “It’ll be cold tonight,” the salty spray tells me. And indeed it is. I sleep with a cold nose beneath two duvets while cows low loudly on the hillside above. Sleeping isn’t easy when the air is cold and thick with full-throated heifers in darkened chorus.

2.1 Acknowledging All The Small Things

The Christmas tree is well and truly done, lying in an ash bucket in the pantry. Christmas is still a familiar dream, but the half-term break is already in sight. A dusty horizon of bright promise after the darkness of January and the unceasing piles of class tests.

My wife and I have renamed the van. We have, until now, referred to is as a “camper-van mid-conversion”, but it’s time to own up to its true state. It is nothing less than a tramper-van! As I lie there in the darkness, piles of wood at my right, insulation ready to be glued in to place hanging limply; saw, drill, screws and other sundries; I dream of the finished article. I embrace the irony that by the time it is insulated, enjoys an electrical supply, hosts a gas ring and a wash basin as well as a sock drawer, it will be summertime and my contract will be coming to an end.

With horizons on my mind I allow trepidation to take a foothold. To teach or not to teach. Post summer is truly an undiscovered country. What to do? Hang up the red pen or set course towards a horizon only half in view. Melancholy thoughts. I google “benefits of teaching” and I am inspired! A digital void answers me. There is talk of holidays and that’s it. Every other article is about how we can benefit learning. Nothing talks of our needs, just the cold nod at the continuing growth of professional development.

So, what is it? What is the benefit? It’s not holidays. Paying school holiday flight fares and accommodation rates alongside the fact that while you’re on holiday the slavering tykes are out there too. I remember taking my wife to Paris, and beneath the Arc d’Triumph being accosted by an excited sixth former-to-be who introduced herself: excited to have me in September. My wife looked at me rapt by this meta-being, who could inspire children even on foreign shores, and hugged me tighter.

When I came back in January, the temperature had dropped significantly and so too had the warmth of the school showers I rely on at 7.30 in the morning. The first morning I couldn’t do it. I managed a splattering of freezing water atop my bonce just to wet down my double crown and vowed to book in to the barbers in order to do in the cockerel peak. Short hair is key to a professional look on emergence from the tramper-van. Now I shower before leaving school until the winds of change do blow more favourably.

My first day in, after my haircut, and at 8 am a lanky year 11, from 50 yards, cries “Fresh trim, Sir”. Indeed my trim is fresh. I hide my gleeful cheer at being noticed in case he spots this too. Only the kids seem to notice I’ve had a haircut. No staff. It takes them four days. And, I muse: benefits? The benefits of teaching are hardly centred on the aggrandisement of the ego, but as one child after another comments on the “trim” I consider what we look like to them. Figures of constancy in their lives; reliability and safety. I have cultivated the habit of taking interest in their lives and now I see it reflected in my own and the value of this.

Still, I wonder: benefits?

My Year Nines inspire me. Half way through a lesson (Romeo and Juliet) one of the lads asks to use his time out card. I haven’t made my mind up about these freedom passes, but I nod. When he leaves I pull out my Fitbit and take bets on his length of absence and hit the timer. This is almost a class expectation. Recognition, between us, that attendance and absence is equally acknowledged.

“Sir?” A voice ventures, pausing our exploration of Act 1, Scene 1.

“Kieran?” I reply.

“Do you know you’re the only teacher who doesn’t shout at him and gets him to actually work?”

“Well. That’s cool.” I almost splutter.

For a term, all I’ve wanted is for Mr Timeout to actually write something in his book, take an interest and not foul up his assessments. I turn back to the board and challenge them to work out what Shakespeare’s England meant by the term ‘maid’, but really I’m reminded of the benefits.

When kids recognise you: A person. A human being. Accomplishment. Kindness and boundaries. Acknowledgment.

Is that all the benefit we need?

“He’s back, Sir” points out Rhys.

“Stop the clock.” I hear.

“What is it?” Asks another.

“12 minutes.” I say. “I’ve won.”

Mr Timeout smiles in realisation and sits down, copying up notes after a friendly but curt reminder.

This is quickly followed by the recognition that being a ‘maid’ in Shakespeare’s England came with the expectation of virgin honour; that when the Capulets talk about putting maids to the wall, they are really talking about rape. The room is abuzz and eyes are wide.

1.6 Pit Stops and Paper Jams

I started the week hiding in the cinema, at a late showing, just to avoid the cold. The cinema was toasty, the film was rotten. I give it two stars, but I think I’m being generous on account of the radiating warmth.

Friends are nothing if not utterly essential on this adventure. At various twists they’ve been there. Offers have rolled in from colleagues since I took up life in the tin can three nights a week. Hot showers, meals, beds have all been on offer. But, at every offer, a pang of guilt rickets through me. The challenge is assailed by charity. Temptation beckons. I’m determined to see it through, but it’s good to know there are plenty of safety nets below as I fling my body temperature against the coming winter freeze.

Thermal barriers are becoming creepingly more essential. The coldest week so far coincided with my tin can’s water pump rattling unsettlingly and so the adventure was rerouted to the warmth of four walls and a double bed, courtesy of merciful friends, while the van sheltered in the pit stop.

My first use of the net so far.

Friends swing to my aid again with thermal windscreen blackouts. The drama teacher has heard of my plight; better still, her parents have. Word is spreading. She asks if some blackouts might be helpful and I almost bite her hand off. So far I’ve been blocking up the windows with my wife’s spare sarongs. I’ve parked facing into hedges too, in order to avoid an imagined nightly visitor’s face appearing in the windscreen while I’m mid pee.

I’m grateful for so many things. Even a top tip from a fellow camper regarding Comfort conditioner bottles.

“Ample room for your particulars, mate.”

“Oh?”

“Your willy.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Get the four-litre one”, he recommends.

“Less time spent emptying it. Yeah, good idea.” Say I.

“Well yeah, but also there’s an offer on.” He winks.

It has been invaluable. Comfort conditioner bottles really do leave ample room for your particulars and the four-litre bottle has the added benefit of feeling as though you’re peeing into an abyss, with no need to worry about overflow – as well as being on offer.

When I was finally reunited with my tin can at the end of the week, I said goodbye to good friends and held out my hand for Adventure’s embrace. There is rain ahead. I’ve avoided the freeze for now.

With the change in temperature outside, so too has there been a change of temperament amongst staff at school.

Mocks have been afoot. Revising, assessing, data entry – watchful eyes scrutinise from the shadows. Even the photocopier is in revolt. Its yellow light flashing, warning of a paper jam.

There is no paper jam.

There is rarely an actual paper jam.

But this is its go to setting when deeply unhappy. It sits idly, winking its yellow light. Ninnering at the end of the corridor, a half wakeful Siren luring in desperate staff in need of that last minute copy for the starter task to the next lesson.

Blink.

Wink.

Plastic cogs cricker, and tap. Blink, wink, blink: Paper jam.

The rising dread of winging a starter creeps in to the teacher’s mind along with those emphatic words we all understand so well: Bollocks!”

In breaks and lunches the rising patois of frustration mounts and breaks surface like the long-held breath of a biblical leviathan. The bi-annual pupil whinge has finally risen up, three days after the photocopier’s last gasp. Lunch, and useful time catching up is usurped by those who cannot contain themselves. Whinge court is in session. Suddenly children are reduced to a number of sighs, groans and expletives.

To partake or not, that is the question.

Curses fly like slings and arrows.

It is an unavoidable necessity for some. An indulgence for others. A requirement of the club. An initiation for some. Our trainee teachers watch on, quietly bemused.

That night, as predicted, it rains. It’s not warm, but it’s not freezing and I bury myself beneath three layers of bedding, at ease with the idea that three nights a week I sleep in a car park, somewhere between moorland and open sea.

1.5 A Knight’s Mournful Muse

As I drew in to my chosen hideaway one night this week, my lights beamed in, across, and away from two friendly fondlers in one of those not so mini minis. Their eyes lit up, not with abandoned passion, but fearful agility. The game was up.

I spent the next hour or so wondering how the liaison was going before they slunk away.

It was Halloween this week. And on that night I sat in the van wondering what was creepier: the increasingly rapid invasion of a culturally irrelevant night of gore and horror marching the streets, (and possibly the carpark) in search of plastic wrapped sugar or a man sitting alone in his white van, in the cold rain in some darkened car park hoping no one raps a tinny knock on the door.

Thankfully, whether a trick or treater comes, or not, the odds of my sanity surviving in a tin can on wheels is probably easier than it surviving in schools at times. I’ve been told a good school is worth the inconvenience, a bad school is to be avoided despite any convenience. I’m in a great school and finding the inconvenience an entertaining challenge.

I love my job. I probably love it most because the kids are so great. I started this blog thinking I only had four months of it. I can happily report I’m now around till the summer. Prior to half term, when children furtively enquired, “Do we have you after Christmas?” I had to answer, “Sorry, no.” My heart sank. Consistency is key and they weren’t going to get it. But things have changed. I’ve been commissioned for two more seasons. This week, when those furtive voices asked again, “Are you still going at Christmas?” my happy answer was, “You’re stuck with me, sorry.” Smiling cheers were the air-pump to my balloon-like ego.

Kids are simple.

All children want you to like them, and all children want to like you. If we give them no indication we like them, and give them no reason to like us they will not work as well as they could, they will not enjoy our subjects and enthusiasm will rot away quicker than the teeth in the sugar-filled maws of this week’s ghostly spooks haunting the streets.

But contradictions abound. We are asked to be all things to all pupils. Our job is to teach, but our responsibility too is to stand as role models; sometimes play the parent; the exo-conscience; the nimble guide; sympathetic mentor; the gardener to emerging identities. But pulling out the weeds has become a dangerous endeavour.

When to intervene?

When to shine a light on a wayward shadow?

In one corner the plea to play a pastoral role, in the other the threatening cuff of an overprotective parent; the self-martyring administration sometimes one step ahead, sometimes one step behind; this strategy, that strategy. In some schools, not mine, “We don’t use the word behaviour. It’s a dirty word.” A discordant concert of prating knaves and mewling strings.

Good leaders say “Well done.”

Poor leaders don’t say much.

Is it wiser to say nothing?

Protect your wage, not the child.

A call out of the blue pulls me away from the dirge. Mum on the phone.

She asks for a Christmas list. It must be November.

I check.

It is.

Rotting pumpkins give it away.

“Bonjour, mother.”

We go through the usual play script. “I don’t need anything. Okay okay. A couple of books?”

“Is that all?”

At 40. Yep. Got my sock collection sorted now.

“What about you?” I ask.

She tells me about an Australian food show she’s been watching. Bake Off with sun and sand; maybe Kylie too, I imagine. She tells me she’s interested in Vietnamese cookery. Wonders if there is a Vietnamese cookery course she can attend.

“Right? Not Australian?”

I get the back story. Vietnamese refugees. Sisters. Don’t waste a scrap.

“They didn’t win, Jonathan, because they can’t do puddings.”

Ah. I muse. Seems unfair, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to an Asian restaurant that could do puddings. Maybe ice cream.

“Shame.” Say I.

I sit in my tin can, a chill air foaming in front of my eyes as I google: Vietnamese cookery courses.

Items may convey a sense of the beatific in contrast with the reality

1.0 An Errant Knight

Four months of teaching and living in a van.

And here I am.   Teaching again.  Four weeks in to living in a van away from home, a county’s distance, now north instead of south, jammed before creamed rather than creamed before jammed – though I’ve never swayed from the true and proper method – I am a wandering foreigner “Doomed for a certain time to” park up at night in secret and precious locations held as borrowed treasures and known only to those hardy residents with nowhere to shelter but their very own trusty, often rusty, van.

Mine’s a T4.  The last of the line of T4s before T5 swept the floor with them.  It is white.  A good service record.  A good runner.  Diesel.  Turbo.  2.5, and home for three nights a week.

I am a 40-year-old homeowner, married, childless (currently), dogless (currently); aspirations (many), geek (certified), four-eyed and fore-armed – yes I have two sleeping bags and two duvets fellow travellers.

The van is currently devoid of insulation.  Cloudy nights are my friends.

The back story:  The school was desperate.  On their knees, they begged me to return (this is how I tell it and may only reflect truth).  I mulled, sighed, considered and agreed.

“I’ll do a term”, quoth I.  “That’ll be ample time to find the one of whom the prophecies speak.”

And here I am. Chronicling the experience of living in a small van for three nights a week, parking up here, there and everywhere, travelling for work, negotiating showers, devouring sandwiches for tea and with time on my hand.

“How has it been?” say you.  “What have you learnt; what insights do you have for us?”

“Well,” I return.  “September has been a month of:

  • Establishing routines.
  • Finding safe harbours, preferably darkened.
  • Hiding from nosy dog-walkers and halogen torches brighter than the sun.
  • Cold sandwiches for tea time.  I’ve said this twice now.
  • Identifying the need to insulate the van.  Soon.
  • Foiling possible attempted robberies of garden sheds.
  • Scrolling through the efforts of Pinterest aficionados.
  • Disturbing a chap mid wild-poo on church grounds.
  • Catching up on my sunsets.
  • Jealously eyeing other van-dwellers with hot dinners.
  • Downloading items from Netflix on Sunday night in preparation for a dull evening.
  • Planning bed modifications, scrapping, re-planning and returning to ogling Pinterest.
  • Talking with a man on a faith walk along the coast with his unfriendly dog and nothing more than a tent, a Bible and the dog’s lead.  I’m sceptical of his credentials.

“And,” you ask, “do you long for four walls and a 16th century roof over your head?”

(We have a 16th century cottage, available for rent on Airbnb don’t you know)

“Well.  I’m coping.  Even though it gets cold.  Even though unseen footsteps draw me to twitch at the curtains.  It’s the 1st of October.  We’ll see.  December is only a sharp wind away.”

Items may convey a sense of the beatific in contrast with the reality

Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

2.4 The End Could Be Nigh

New threats approach. My contract will come to an end. Again.

“September is coming”, I hear whispered in a faintly familiar northern lilt. I’ve agreed to work here till the summer. One term after another my time living in the tin whale on wheels has extended. Necessity and Circumstance are casting the dice in looming clouds above. Their fingers outstretched pitting us against the wolves, the harpies, the emails, the parents; they point to this path or the next and we follow.

Nothing is coming up. No Elsewhere appeals. Each job that does is either in a less than prestigious school environment, or as far away from home as I work now. But my time in this battlefield, where I know the trenches, the sniper points and the enemy has to end. We’re not moving. It’s vanlife or nought.

September without an income does not delight. My wife teaches. A SENDCo (Special Education Needs an Disability Coordinator) no less. Part-time. She can walk to school. I say this not from jealously, but from a point of detail. This is the perfect balance in such a role for the upkeep of sanity, love and endurance. She excels in her role and plaudits land like roses at her feet. She deserves it. She works in a sector that sails a leaky boat, her chosen bark barraged by increasing numbers of children swarming up the sides from the deep dark, to her freshly swabbed timber. Under her watchful eye she observes a national explosion of need assaulting all captains in the SENDCo fleet, but she is a good captain and has the legs for it. HMS Sallyforth keeps on sallying-forth.

One of my year 10s asks if I will be teaching him next year. The next period a girl in my year 8 class asks the same. I let them know I signed on till the summer. They both sigh, the loss of consistency on their collective minds. I sigh too.

The same day The Guardian get in touch. A recent pitch has been successful. A, not-so broad, broadsheet is interested in my questionable life choices. It starts with a request for an interview then the invitation to write the piece myself. There’s soon talk of a photoshoot and my fists pump the air; I’m reading emails during a silent writing activity with year 7; the stillness is shattered and the inquisition begins.

After school I drop in on the Head and a deputy who are chewing over the day’s antics. Their disposition shifts when I tell them about The Guardian offer and their frowns turn upside down. They drop not so subtle hints about extending the contract into September and beyond, but how can I continue in the van? We can’t move. Can’t afford it. Love our hometown too much, now it really is home, can’t move away from family again not if we want free and friendly babysitters when we finally get round to children.

“So, you’re happy for me to write a piece? It’ll be anonymous and the school too.”

“Absolutely.” My fists pump the air. I didn’t need the permission. It wasn’t about permission. Writing about this time was never my idea. The school has never needed to watch its back.

That night I write it, email the Head. She loves it.

It’s important to honour those standing in the dugouts.

In the morning it’s off and the next few days are spent tweaking and editing, qualifying points of understanding and readability. The essence of why I am doing what I do is there, but much is not. A thousand words cannot explain it and I know much relies on inference.

Finally finished the lines go dead. It’s in the lap of Guardian journos now. Thoughts of September return.

The weather has turned and the worst is behind. I’ve made it this far. Can I keep going?

Many put up with worse and I know this. A long commute is not uncommon for the majority. It’s not insurmountable. Many sit in traffic daily, sit in trains, on buses, but time is an asset and this is the only way I see of doing it, so why not make the most, accept the inconvenience and soldier on.

They want me to stay. That is certain.

The advert goes out.

Nationally.

My wife and I talk,

I apply. Again.

Last time we had one other applicant. This time we have a field. The competition looks good. Too good. None of them will live in a van. They’ll move. Settle down. Bed in. Sink roots.

How can I compete with that?

September becomes another wolf at the door. The growls growing deeper.

At the beginning of term a deputy looked at the situation and offered to reduce my timetable.

“Less time in the van. Surely that’s a good thing?”

Less time in work is not though. Less time spent in purposeful fulfilment is not. The labour isn’t laborious, but languor would be a patient killer.

I’m shortlisted. Time to scare the wolf away.