After this year’s hokey cokey, in that last week, I was ready for March the 8th. My patience with online teaching had worn past the last fibre. Like a dusty pair of white Y-fronts past their acceptable usage date. It was gone. I knew it was gone. When I got into it with Michael Rosen on Twitter, it was as glaringly obvious as a field of swishy swashy grass swashing and swishing.
Guru of the bear hunt. One of my daughter’s favourite books.
Tweeting about how the government should enlist a legion of professionals to sweep to the aid of the education sector. The seeming assumption that we weren’t waving, but drowning, was a bit much and I dove into the thread at the defence of all those waving, not drowning.
Reading about the squelchy squerchy mud that evening with my daughter, I didn’t begrudge him, as we turned the last page, and she announced: “Again”.
Over lockdown I had grown very fond of the ever brightening view through the window and the added time with the family, even so I was ready to move on from online lessons even if it did mean I’d be back in the slammer, back in the van and the midnight chill. Kids dropping in and out, lag and pet issues would be no more. My last lesson confirmed Boris had made the right call when, mid-response to a question on Macbeth, I lost my pupil.
Into the ether.
And then: “Sorry, Sir. My cat walked on the internet.” We were back in the room.
Later that day I popped out to the shop, passing closed sign after closed sign; outside the launderette, on the floor, a pair of knickers lay, idly forgotten. Outside the shop I bump into a neighbour of the real travelling kind. Deb, in her 60s, has a long wheelbase, neon blue VW Transporter with leisure battery, LED lights and an actual bed. After selling her flat round the corner, Deb parks up all over and was one of the first to come and see the baby pre-pandemic: a bygone age.
Living in a van, I knew she used the launderette on occasion, so I mentioned the knickers.
In her best East End drawl told me, “Nah, not mine hun’. I don’t wear knickers.” She lets that sink in. “Thermals all the way, long johns, like Lee Marvin, you know? It’s the way forward, hun’.” I eagerly depart and get my crisps, anxious to put the thought out of my head.
After my first day back at school, the routine re-established, the night drawing in, I climb under the sheets, teeth only slightly on the edge of chattering. I throw the duvet over my head and google long johns, click ‘shopping’ and weigh up the options, wondering what my wife might think.
The next few weeks, finding somewhere to park up becomes increasingly difficult. Space is at a premium. I’m not the only one camping out. My favourite spot, a cliffside overlooking white rollers, is beset with vans, all much bigger than my home, their residents much more entrenched in this lifestyle, or at least prepared for it.
Tourists escaping the Lockdown restrictions from across the country and beyond, with German and Belgium plates beached and sprawling out across the vista. Nights have been late at school, putting together the portfolios for Year 11 that Gavin asked for and the later I leave the less and less chance I have of squeezing in between Fritz and Hans.
Even knowing this, I give it a go every night, retreating to substitute hideaways when Lady Luck deserts me. It’s hump day and I’m in luck, as I pull up someone is pulling out and I nestle in between two hightops. The sun is setting and I sit, and watch waiting for the green flash. A clank, a wallop and a whoosh of a neighbour’s sliding door and a troop of hounds race pastt, baying with joy at their freedom, following them a pyjamered woman, hair in dread rolls and fag in hand. She stumps out the bitter end and watches on as the pack poop, leaving it and heading back to her palace, dogs and all.
Over the course of the term, back at school time slips away with one cherry after another from Gavin, until, eventually Year 11 is gone almost as though the Blip got’ em.
There’s a funny sense of loss with the routine of the timetable upended, and time becomes limbo. It will be like this until Results, our own Milton Epic.
At the end of the week I rush home, stopping to fill up on the way. As I pump diesel into the tank a plump looking seagull struts around the forecourt. Sidling up to one bin after another. Inside, while looking for the milk on my wife’s shopping list, I hear the attendants discussing the winged-rat. He’s perturbed, I hear them say. Out of sorts and at a loss.
I pay up and the story goes that he’s a regular. This time of day the bins are emptied and he attends daily, each and every day, the same time without fail. For years he’s been doing this. Remarkable memory, and no watch. Only today, the bins have been emptied 10 minutes early and he now walks up to one fresh bin after another confused, asking “Which way shall I fly?”.