We’re in March and months have passed between blogs. Each Friday I sketch out a, now, increasingly airy plan to slip into the local pub at the end of the week, as I do, and jot up the latest twists, turns, dips and dives of school and vanlife.
But I fail.
Half term comes and goes, and every time I walk past the pub wondering what could have been, a Disney princess ballad seemingly at my lips: the wronged damsel unable to go to the ball.
The order of the day is instead: marking mayhem, daughter and DIY.
Her smiles grow while my DIY frown deepens.
We are now four months down the parenthood road and discovering what every other parenting pioneer has so many times before: there are not enough box sets. My wife and I are late starters. We are equipped with the experience of other people’s children, nephews, nieces, and our observations, over croissant and cappuccino, of tuttable parents and children rampaging maniacally.
Our mantra was firmly set long ago: “This daughter of ours will be an effervescent cloud above such riffity-raffaty”.
We cross everything and pray it in.
As I sip away at the brew, two of the blighters charge by. Malarkey is afoot in the pub. My place of refuge after a two month pilgrimage. They scream past at 3 and 4 years of age (at a guess). A plastic cow flies through the air, but no pigs. Parents in the corner chin their wine unapologetically and while I applaud, I also delete, re-type, delete and lose my train of thought sipping again and again at a craft brew aware of my middle-classdom.
We are 8 weeks into the term and, in the last two weeks, two parents’ evenings down. Result. One after the other, they sit, shake and smile as we talk about their treasures’ tinkerish behaviour and progress so far. The smiles sit in place from start to finish and then a diamond sits down between the gems.
“We’ve been waiting three years for our daughter to have you.”
The story unfolds. In the past I taught her cousin. Recognised the dyslexia and, together, overcame the hurdles and buoyed the dimming attitude, the difficulties and pitfalls all the way to a B. An unheard of attainment grade in her mind that, still today, delights me to recall. Years later, in her twenties and studying art and photography, she returned to school to interview two of us for a project. All three of us choked back, and losing the battle, choked on the tears.
Aunt and uncle are hoping for a similar service and I double down from their show of faith.
Over the course of the remaining hour I hope for another renewal of faith and success, but I happily settle for this one moment. Expecting anything on top of this pat on the back would just be greedy.
That night I camp outside the bakery.
It’s not camping, it’s perching. At 7 in the morning, I’ll have a coffee with the baker and, if I’m lucky, leave for school with a bacon-based pastry for breakfast.
I’m still in the season requiring a good four or five covers, my breath making clouds in the light above my head. Storm after storm assails. The van sways from side to side and I imagine it tipping; from side to side; at one point, it pushes back and forth and then the wind seems to scoop the van from beneath and lift it up freeing both the suspension coils and my stomach, for an instant. In this moment my stomach is aboard ship, moving of its own accord. My own moment of Zero G amidst the swell.
After the half term I checked the forecast daily, knowing I would be clapped up, back in the van, an inmate of circumstance. Often, when people hear about the van life they imagine an early getaway from school and a camping spot overlooking an Instagramable vista where I perch in peaceful contentment, but the truth is I stay in school, as long as I can, leaving the period of time encased in my tin shell to as little as possible.
Instead of Byronesque walks along the cliffs and beaches, I mark, I plan, I email parents, hunt for glues, track down scissors and set homework. The evenings are more reminiscent of Milton at times, especially when the wind is up like it has been; my furious companion.
The term has been an interesting one. Two new Year 11 groups have been on my timetable since Christmas as we set out for success with now only two months before the first exam. Over the half term I wonder how my original class is doing. They’ve been drawn and quartered, spread to the four winds and, after almost two years of seeing them every other day, some of them I see none of anymore. It is as though they have evaporated into corridors of nothingness.
I haven’t lost all of them. Some made the cut, ever-present pips on my radar till the end. Some of the evaporate also turn up to the after-school ‘Biscuit Club’, gulping hot chocolate and breathing Bourbons as we dissect Macbeth, wrestle the Sign of the Four and shine the interrogator’s lens on An Inspector Calls in an attempt to stretch, challenge and ease their burden.
Each lesson, with my new entities, the oddness pervades. A class of kids I’ve taught in the past and over the years, but, now, are as new as an undiscovered country. I have little time for a relationship with this new entity in the sprint before us and, at times, it feels alien to me.
At the day’s end, I leave amidst another storm.
Is this the third or fourth, sent our way?
The local farmers have been busy. The air is fierce with the stench of muck. Manure is on the wind and the roar of high tide carries all the way to the car park.