It’s only 4 teaching days away, but at this point it feels like it might as well be the distance from Houston to the Sea of Tranquillity. I too have a cramped shell of tin to shelter me, and I too, at times, feel as far from home as the men of the Apollo missions must have done, but at least they had some company along the way.
This term seems like a special kind of torture.
A special kind of heat affronts rather than comforts.
And, accompanying the stilted summer air is the rather special squawk of the resident seagulls, a veritable colony of litter munching flying rats in residence. Each call is a deafening dirge and never fails to interrupt the lesson.
It’s time. Surely it is.
We all feel like we’re just playing out our time on our own special stage. The Extended Director’s Cut no one asked for, or that Hobbit film that takes longer to watch than to read.
Despite the need for recess it’s been a term I’ll remember. It’s not one to be filed away and forgotten. Not this time.
How could I forget a term of nights spent watching sunsets from the comfort of my van? Having been scared out of my valley retreat, I made for the cliffs and have enjoyed every sunset since. Pulling up shortly before sundown, I slide the side door open and lounge, book in hand, watching the summer’s light disappear leaving a haze of peach and burnt tangerine behind.
One night, last week I stood on the cliff’s promontory watching a pod of dolphins circle, jump and pick at what must have been a school of mackerel hidden below the table-linen flat water’s surface.
This spot attracts much company and I’ve now spent time swapping trampervan upgrade ideas with other vagabonds, all who are rather more prepared than I have been for van life. I’ve survived. Just about. But I cringe at the looks I get from my fellow campers as they gawk at my humble nest.
Despite the isolation of my cliffside abode, I am sharing the site and I miss the quiet nights in the valley, disturbed only by the tawny owls in the evening and the buzzard call in the morning. There are times that I lie there, my imagination fully engaged with no hope of sleep, as I try to place the sounds outside: sometimes muted bass music intrudes, or muffled conversation and, every so often, the heavy approach of a new engine guzzles, somewhere, out there, shifting back and forth in first and reverse, first and reverse, until it stops and the night’s noises return to black.
But these nights, despite their beauty, have become harder and harder. I have less and less work to keep me at my desk and I have found myself done by 4pm, the prospect of 5 hours ahead of me before the time I normally choose to park up appals. With this breadth of time and the loneliness of it I have retreated, gone home and surprised my wife. I hate the cost, the waste of fuel, the emissions and the time spent travelling the 80 miles home, but the van is not home, it is a facilitator. It defeats the point to do this, but there has been an increase in sighs as much as there has been an increase in sunsets: lonely romanticism is no comfort.
The second night I return we slip into bed at 11. We read, we kiss goodnight and the light goes off. Almost immediately the town’s minstrel strikes up. At first we lie there trying to place the sound. We agree it is a guitar, but the tune alludes us it shifts around so much. Finally the light goes on, so does my wife’s dressing gown and I trot downstairs. It’s one thing listening to neighbouring campers play out their last few beats before settling down, but outside my home my patience is thinned.
I step out in gown, bare-footed and bare-balled standing at the edge of the square upon which we are perched. I spy the musical malady and engage the inner ruffian’s voice. At heart, I’m not as middle-class as my P60 and profession might suggest.
“Oi!”Yes, ‘oi’, I know. “Oi, some of us are trying to sleep sweetheart! Offski. Pronto!”
I stand there, arms raised and for a moment I think: shit, what if he doesn’t offski like I asked he?
But he does. Slinking away into the lamp glare of the high street.
I return to the champion’s trump and we sleep soundly before the 5.30 alarm nudges me back into reality.
That morning I sit at my desk, logging on, opening my documents for the day, printing resources and sipping a coffee. Two pupils are in attendance, horribly early, victims of parental routines and limited public services. They tell me I’m the most attractive person in the room and my eyebrow goes up. I have two eyebrows, but just the one can go up like this, Spock-like.
This is one of those moments some teachers, the good-looking ones, fear. The inappropriate moment. My mind begins to carefully record the words in fear of future investigation.
I ask, “And, how exactly do you get to that conclusion?”
“Sir told us.”
Alarm bells really start to sound now. We have a safeguarding policy and I know I’ll be double-checking it shortly.
“Right? And why did Sir tell you that?”
“Well Sir, you’re bigger than us. Not being rude. So, you have a denser mass. Therefore, according to the laws of attraction, you are the most attractive person in the room.”
For a moment. Just for a moment. A long moment. I worried.
But, in more ways than one, I guess they are right. I am the most attractive person in the room.
Later that day, last period, I sit at my desk as Year 8 complete a writing task. I make the mistake of leaning back and let out a little, yet undeniably audible, squeaky little fart. All work is frozen in time. This has never happened before. No one knows what to do. I look at the nearest kid and besmirch him as quick as I can.
That one eyebrow rises: “Kieran!”
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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:
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