There’s a funny thing about teachers and the summer holidays. Everywhere you go, there they are. Once, just before I took up my place on a PGCE, I witnessed an off-duty teacher being excitedly greeted in the ferry waiting area in Portsmouth. There I was, playing a hilarious game of cards, the rules of which I can no longer remember, with a friend who was very evilly good at it, and the nice looking woman at the next table was positively mobbed. I’ve never been spotted when I’ve been on my holidays; it’s only when I am chasing my own children around the swimming pool trying to get them out and exhausted by the effort of holding my stomach in that some little voice pops up to say hello, no, I’m usually unmasked by my fellow adults.
There is always a certain reluctance to admit who you are when you are a teacher on holiday. For a start, you are never quite sure what kind of reaction you are going to get. Everybody has an opinion, you see, and pretty much everyone wants the holidays. When you are a teacher in the months of July and August, and someone asks you what you do, you tend to answer in a quiet voice. Until, that is, you discover that you are chatting to another one (at which point there is a general sigh of relief and the conversation swings to education politics and the husband and the children roll their eyes and sigh).
It happened the other day, when we were on holiday. In a fit of enthusiasm and ‘wouldn’t that be a great way to spend our next holiday and wouldn’t the kids love it’ we booked ourselves a day out on a 32ft yacht and it turns out the skipper, in his former life, was a teacher. And a teacher of SEN no less.
It was all going so well. The sun was shining. The wind had stopped blowing a gale. We had cheese sandwiches and crisps and the children were excited. Until we started heading out to sea, that is.
There is something I never realised about the bit where the river actually meets the sea. I never realised it was quite so lumpy. I also never realised, when you are on a yacht, and especially a small one, how close you are to the water. How the waves and the spray and the movement and the bigness of it all is all so immediate. I never realised how silent it is when the engine goes off and the sails take over and the boat responds and leans with the wind and lurches into the water.
How Sam would be so afraid.
Now I know that I write about how he’s bolshie and full of his own ideas of what he should do and when, but to be honest with you, at home, he is generally a very compliant child. Given the time to respond and a kind voice, he usually does as he’s told. And, he does like to please you. He’ll say yes if he knows it’ll make you smile. He’s not very good at saying how he really feels. So when he said he’d like to go on a big boat, and we showed him the picture, we didn’t give it a second thought.
We didn’t think that there might be another interpretation to his behaviour on boats. We didn’t think that those moments when he looked down and seemed absorbed in the moment, he was actually deeply uncomfortable with the situation. We soon found out that telling him to look at the shore really didn’t help.
Poor old Sam. He lost his breakfast about five times, burst into tears, shouted at daddy and may have even kicked him a couple of times, such was his distress. It wasn’t long before we turned and headed back to the safety of the estuary.
Some people would have been cross with Sam. Some people would have had him off that boat as soon as I had cleaned up the sick. Some people would have looked at our son, red faced and tear streaked and washed their hands of him. But some people have seen it all before.
Some people are more than happy to wait until a seasick child has recovered their composure and spend some time to make a boy with learning difficulties feel positive about his experience.
Thank you, Jon, for a lovely day. It didn’t quite turn out as we had planned, but, like much of our lives, was not to be missed. Not for a moment.
If you fancy a day out, I would highly recommend Salcombe Sailing Days.