2020 to Twenty Twenty-One has finally come to a close. The closest many of us will have come to Cormac McCarthy’s Road, or George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead will have no sequel. The year has been like leafing through a Costa Book Award novel without a bookmark, with chapters repeating dryly and nothing to keep you going other than a stale biscuit and cold coffee staining the mug rim. This year has been one of those books everyone is aware of, the critics rave about but few actually want to read.
But, it’s over. We’re told.
The end of the year stumble trips to the Summer break one popped bubble after the other and we end with only Year 7 and 8 seeing it through.
But as we end one gigantic languid and sluggish chapter, worthy of any Russian novelist, another opens. A new job surfaces.
Two head of year roles and a potential second in department wink at the brim.
I had thought the next opportunity would come from a new school, closer to home, but instead opportunities abound where I am and the continuation of van life will be inevitable if I’m successful. My application whizzes off to the Head’s PA. She wishes me luck.
My wife and I weigh up the pros and cons. Working at a school (and continuing to do so) that reminded me I could teach and was fairly decent at it after a breakdown and some rather insidious thoughts darkened my mind’s horizons; living in a van a few nights a week in order to make this happen now seems vastly more attractive to us given the journey travelled over the last six years together.
I’m shortlisted. I interview. I’m asked what I would rather. Head of Year or Second in Department, the caveat being I don’t mess up the interview. I throw caution to the wind, counting up the number of scuppered interviews in my past and, running out of fingers, I plumb for Second in Department. By the end of the day, at the end of the year, the wind has indeed changed and the moment is magical and a new chapter opens up.
I am now Acting Second in the English Department.
I have two degrees in Theatre. I’ll be fine.
That night I attempt to camp up at a spot becoming increasingly popular thanks to the influx of tourists and ‘isolation’ dodgers lucky enough to have a van of their own. It looks out to sea and affords a sunset view, but I’m not out early enough. By 9.30 p.m. all the spots are taken so I pootle down to a friend’s bakery and park outside instead. In the morning we catch up, Marie (who runs the cafe) puts a latte into my hand and I share the good news with the owner, leaving with a pasty as reward. It’s almost as if I’m in my very own Richard Curtis film: About A Teacher.
The new chapter gets better and better. Even the cold shower at work isn’t enough to dampen my spirits.
About A Teacher continues with those incidental and loveable moments: a colleague who relies on a cushion to sit on, forgotten at home, thanks to a bad back borrows a big purple stuffed elephant from the break out room to replace the cushion, bringing the proverbial into the literal. She takes it classroom to classroom and the kids don’t say a word. Further still, a pupil gifts me a pen in a wooden casing crafted by her dad as an end of year gift, along with chocolate and a children’s book about a lost hat for my daughter that very quickly has become her favourite book of all time. Still more: a jar of chocolate mold Lego men, wine, Prosecco, cards. I’m made.
About A Teacher takes a still lighter turn when a colleague emphatically decries the existence of all seagulls after break time duty and poo in hair. She is caught washing her fringe under the Science lab taps with a colleague. It takes a further turn when one of the many visiting electricians, bringing things up to specification during the last few months over the evenings, and I talk about depression. We swap stories, quickly finding common ground in a way that I often think must translate to others about as well as the ending of Lost did.
At the weekend, About A Teacher finds itself in a domestic setting. I take my daughter out and about and embrace my move from working class roots to middle class sniffery by visiting the cafe and buying her a babycino.
We sit at the back on comfy chairs. With some help she tucks in, first to the marshmallows I didn’t see being added, then her frothy milk. At 21 months she is a cosmo girl: independent, bright and sassy. Then, like a dingly dangly scarecrow, a 4 year old pops up thrusting a soft toy called Sky in her face. Mad eyes and lunging speech that repeats and repeats about the cuddly little dog in a space outfit. Her life history tips out while her slightly older sister looks on, embarrassed. Eventually mum joins the table with hot chocolate and gingerbread men. The 4 year old takes hold of a gingerbread man the size of her face and munches on. The mother apologises. She’s got nothing to apologise for really, kids are kids, but the ADHD alert button has been pressed and sounds like the klaxon of one of those vehicles reversing, reminding you constantly of the fact. Before too long the mother tells me she thinks Sky’s owner has ADHD.
“Yeah, I really want to get her into the school round the corner. It has a great Senco. She’s really good.”
She names the school and I chuckle-sigh. “That’s my wife.”
“Oh, is it? Well, my friend says she’s really good.”
“She is.” And while the truth is that she is, like so many teachers, she never gives herself credit.
This moment is gold.
The final high of this chapter is reached when my form finishes the year with the most points in the year group: our year long Herculean effort is achieved. Before leaving they take it in turns to back up to a paper measure and we record our end of year height for a September comparison when we return. Kids are kids after all.