The time before still feels like a distant place; a faded boxset of a dreamed existence like The Good Life with Tom and Barbara. Life in Surbiton is so close, yet so far away. It didn’t feel like it at the time, but now it’s the closest thing we had to a golden era after the Covid.
Striding between groups of desks; leaning over shoulders, ticking and flicking; sitting beside pupils in the rumble of debate. Gone.
At the start of the year, my new Year 7 form are eager to please. Terrified, probably. Beyond excited, probably. They sit in their rows and I stand away, priest-like at a temple blessing. The first order of business is organising our Form Reps. Hands shoot up, tall like sunflowers. We shortlist. We vote. We appoint. I bless their journey and email parents about the wonderful attitudes of this Covid generation.
That evening a parent replies. It’s from a Form Rep’s mother. I click, expecting my first ‘issue’. It will be the usual, I think: friendship problems. Perhaps not, perhaps something to do with a pencil case or a phone. Uniform maybe. No: the toilets. It’ll be the toilets.
But no. The parent thanks me for the start to the year her daughter has had and is really very pleased to hear her daughter is a Form Rep, writing:
“We look forward to her updates on her role…should she be required at PMQs or required to make any international travel plans please let me know in advance.”
Our rep has obviously been waxing lyrical over this career advancement. The warm note of sarcasm has me choking back the coffee and my eyes water. I’m already looking forward to our first contact evening.
That night the winds are up and the van is buffeted from side to side. It feels as though all four winds are at it tonight. Sleep is slow in coming. After deciding to sell up and see if we can’t take advantage of the current climate nothing seems settled. We’re gambling and I’m not a gambler, more like a gamboler if it ever comes to it. With an offer on the house, and having been gazumped on the only house we have found fit for purpose we’re in a kind of limbo-land and my thumb works zombie-like swiping hungrily through Rightmove as if it’s looking for its next Tinder hook-up.
“At least there’s the van.” A not so wise colleague attempts to console, but the joke, if it is a joke falls flat. It’s a real prospect I suppose, but not with an 11-month old in the mix and nothing but an empty 4 litre bottle of Lenor for a man’s necessities in the dark of the night. Now my zombie-thumb, too, flicks through Youtube eagerly devouring the brainchildren of van conversion influencers recommending this set up over that, apparently starting off with no upstyling skills whatsoever, but managing some sort of palatial heaven in their respective tins anyway.
These frantic obsessions gnaw.
The next day, before finishing for the night, I begin to create some revision resources for Macbeth. We’ll be moving back to it soon enough, Covid allowing, so I may as well get prepared. I put together a number of ability models for every tier based on examples from a now bygone age.
2020 would have been my tenth year marking for the exams, paying for our holidays and extravagances, but 2020 is not the year of extravagance, whatever walk of life you’re in.
Each year it has been a privilege to mark the hard work of hundreds of students. They amaze, shock and appall in varying degrees of measure. There was a year, when Of Mice and Men, holy of holies, was still on the syllabus an entire swathe of children couldn’t help themselves developing phallic references out of Curly’s Wife’s hair, described to hang “in little rolled clusters, like sausages.” The rather graphic image of floppy phalluses dangling about Curly’s Wife’s head, imparted by these darlings, has never ceased to haunt me; a sort of Miss Piggy rather than Medusa, luring men in upon her craggy shores.
I pore through my notes on past responses finding a little gem to cheer me up. A nugget from a paper I marked some years back. I keep these aside, adding to my treasures every year exam marking comes around. It brightened up the day then and doesn’t fail to now. For a moment I can think of something other than Righmove and hippies in their super cool vans. On the subject of Macbeth’s power, not entirely inaccurately, still making a relevant point, Young Anonymous wrote:
“Nothing is powerful enough to compete with Macbeth, including huge animals like wolves, lions and bears, known to be brutal and win a fight against even the strongest of humans as they are so wild and bloodthirsty and strong, but Macbeth is even more brutal and powerful than that.”
Oh my. I read it through a couple of times, a kind of rosy cheer filling me up, but decide to leave it out of the lesson materials for fear of spreading the confusion. Oh my. I imagine Macbeth wrestling all sorts of Dorothy’s nightmares and realise this will probably dominate the day’s learning instead of enhancing it.
Covid has caused enough of a distraction as it is – no need to add to it.
That night, I think about Macbeth battling wolves, lions and bears as the wind batters the sides of the van once again.
I knew I should have gone to a more sheltered spot tonight, but instead I wanted to wake up to the waves and the crashing sound that deafens everything, even thought.