Monthly Archives: August 2016

Olympians

I’m not what you might call a Sports’ Fan.  In fact, I think I would go so far as to say that I come from a family who are singularly left cold by sports.  Nobody follows a football team, nobody watches it on the telly – except, that is, for the Olympics.  Last time we got carried away with the rush of enthusiasm that swept the nation and applied for tickets (which we didn’t get), and rushed off to see the Paralympics (tickets for which we did get) on a sunny day in September.  My mum and my uncle, her brother, even went so far as to keep charts, and ring each other up to compare.

One of the things I like about the Olympics is the variety.  I have to admit that I don’t go a bundle on the horse dancing thing or watching archery and I can’t see myself ever becoming a fan of boxing, but I find myself transfixed by the gymnastics (will they, won’t they fall off that beam?) and the cycling, if somewhat confusing in its scoring has been, for a UK audience anyway, an exciting spectacle.

Another of the things I like, as a teacher especially, is the sports-people themselves.  I like the way that they are so gracious (well, most of them, anyway) in both victory and defeat.  If they have a bad event, they pick themselves up and they carry on.  Sometimes, they even win when everyone thought their chance was lost.  I feel a bit sorry for them though, when they are interviewed, straight off the track or out of the pool, sweat dripping, still breathing heavily from their exertions, expected to come up with something coherent for the cameras – especially if they just missed out coming out on top.

I remember watching Victoria Pendleton interviewed, post-race, eyes bloodshot and the skin of her cheeks blood pricked, and I remembered the time that I looked like that.  After giving birth, I made my way to the loo and caught a glimpse of my veined reflection in the mirror over the sink (nothing like that old advert for tea where the slightly flushed young woman took a grateful sip of her steaming brew while everyone offered her their smiling congratulations), and I thought that I had never made quite so much physical effort either before or since.

But, apart from the evidence of hard labour, the thing that strikes me, almost every time I watch and listen to these athletes at the peak of fitness, an example, if you like, of the tippety top a human being can actually be, is how, when they clutch their medals, they give the credit away.  They don’t stand there and agree that yes, they are the best of the best and thank you very much; instead, they are at pains to point out that they couldn’t do what they do without teams of people, friends, family, people paid to look after them, at their side, supporting them to live their chosen lives.

I thought about these Olympians, these examples of human greatness, the other day, when I watched a programme on TV and I listened to a debate on the introduction of a new blood test that will help doctors to identify possible pregnancies where the baby is carrying a little extra in the form of chromosomes.  I thought about them, and I wondered how terrible it was that somebody should have to be helped, or that someone might need some support in order to achieve their dreams.

I wondered if there wasn’t anyone who didn’t worry for their child after they had gone, and how using this worry, the fear of how other people will behave towards them, fear of living a life supported, as a justification for not bringing that baby into the world at all was perhaps the saddest thing of all.

 

 

You can watch the debate here, from about 18 minutes in.  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07r24yr

 

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Decompression

I do wonder sometimes, if the long summer break, the One Big Perk, isn’t one of the reasons why people give teachers stick when they meet them at social occasions (that, and the way they suddenly remember all the teachers who ever told them off or made them feel silly over something or other).  They always mention it, that and the 9 til 3 thing.  No matter how hard we try we just can’t seem to persuade the general public that actually, teachers work really long hours.

The contrast between term time and holiday time is also one of the reasons, I am quietly convinced, that many people give up on the job after about five years.  It’s a bit like the way I once heard airline piloting described: hours and hours of sitting around doing very little punctuated by minutes of intense activity and stress – only the other way round.  It’s all very well if you are partnered up with a teacher and you can go off for the entire summer, live at the beach or a month and pretend that you are one of the gentry, so rich that you don’t need to work, but it doesn’t exactly promote a balanced work/life balance.  The constant see-saw between pressure and nothing is stressful in itself.

I’m not saying that children should be in school for any longer (if you don’t count my idea to make the school day longer, but with longer breaks contained within) – they are only children after all, and there is only so much learning and sitting at school desks, staring out of the window and longing to be as free as the birds that a child can reasonably be expected to do – but really, when you think about it, do we have to structure the school year this way?

Children can struggle with the long summer break – and especially those, like Sam, who have special needs, or who live in chaotic or unhappy homes – six weeks is a long time, and long enough to do some prodigious forgetting.  And while I’m at it, does it have to be in August?  I’m sitting here, watching the rain come down and thinking of July, when it was sunny, and too hot to teach, and everyone was grumpy because they had to be in school when really all they wanted to do was loll around doing nothing very much and that was just the grownups.

And we all struggle with the Autumn term.  I know the summer one goes a bit bonkers, what with sports days and end of year shows and assemblies and reports and exams, but that is nothing compared to the darkening marathon towards Christmas.  We start in September, all mellow and gentle mornings, and we end up, carols coughed out in the semi-gloom of the winter solstice, with about three days, taking away all the enforced visiting and merrymaking we have to do, just to spread the germs around a little bit more, to recover ourselves and get on with the next bit.

The thing is, though, that we can’t have schools trying it out, just as an experiment, like.  Schools are made up of families, and coordinating INSET days, from a parental perspective, is bad enough.  In my house, if you include my erstwhile school, we have four institutions to placate (including one parent who can’t just take a day off when she needs to).  If we’re going to make a change, we all have to do it together.

 

(Actually, if it were me, I would have July off, two weeks in October and three – at least – at Christmas.  Give us all a bit of time to decompress, get a bit of balance and restore good health.)

Ladders

I don’t like ladders.  If ever there is a need to go up into the loft, be it to fetch down the Christmas decorations, or to investigate the water or something, it is not me who clambers up, not if I can help it.  Once, about ten years ago, my friend Meg found herself locked out of her house, she on one side of the door and her children on the other (long story), and I, in possession of a garage key and a ladder, rather gamely volunteered to climb in through the upstairs window and let her back in.

It was all going so well, until the moment I reached the top of the ladder and, faced with the prospect of inching my way across the porch towards the open window (it didn’t look so high or so steep from ground level), I looked down.  It was then that Meg, much to my relief, informed me that actually, now she came to think about it, the patio doors were open, and, rather than making like a cat burglar, I could choose instead to hop over the back fence, making use of the wheelie bin on my way down the other side, if I liked, and I, legs turning rapidly to jelly, agreed.

My dad, on the other hand, has never had a problem with them.  One time, I must have been about eight years old, our neighbour’s chimney caught fire.  Theirs being a thatched cottage, and the local fire station being a good eight miles away down the Valley Road (lots of twists and turns), my dad, ever calm in emergencies that don’t involve his own children, hot footed it over the road to the other neighbours, the ones with the long ladder, and shinned up it as quick as you like, taking with him our garden hose (long) (we had a big garden).  The fire was out and everyone was having a cup of tea before the professionals arrived, wondering what was going on.

I don’t know, maybe if the house had been on fire I might have made a bit more effort, but there you are.  The one time I ever saw somewhere on fire (other than that chimney, and to be honest, the thing I really remember was my dad up the ladder, toting the garden hose) was when I was at university.  We heard the alarm go off, thankful that it wasn’t us who had to turn out into the cold and dark, peeped out of the window to see who it was who had been making toast after a night on the tiles, to be faced with flames leaping up the curtains opposite, fire engines with blue lights flashing, and burly firemen (I think they were men anyway; it was dark and I couldn’t really see) informing students that what they actually had to do, rather than shrieking and waving their arms about, was jump out of the window and they would catch them.

Ladders are better than ropes (or jumping out of windows) though, it has to be said.  I remember having a go at climbing up a rope once when I was at school.  I could just about manage to climb over the top of the wall bars, when ordered to by Mrs Savage, but up the rope?  The best I could manage was to swing ineffectually at the bottom.  The first time I ever encountered a rope as an actual, real solution as an escape from a possible fire (as opposed to an instrument of torture in a PE lesson) was when, at seventeen, I went for an interview at Oxford University.  It, and the horrible little bar fire beside which I was expected to warm myself and the lack of showers for the washing of hair, came as a bit of a shock.

I suppose I had had an unrealistic idea of what going to Oxford University might be like.  It had been an ambition of mine, ever since I decided that I was going to study English Literature (because I liked reading) and I had asked my dad one day, when we had driven down to have a look at the river (the one at the bottom of the Valley Road), shooting under the bridge at Ashton, rich brown and powerfully in full flood, where was the best place to go to undertake such studies.  And he, not really knowing anything about the study of English Literature, seeing as he was (and is) a civil engineer (hence the interest in the bridge and how it was coping under flood conditions), said that he thought it might be Oxford, because of the dictionary.  In my mind it was going to be some sort of cross between Mallory Towers and What Katy Did Next, but it wasn’t.

There was a boy who had driven his dad’s red (it always has to be red) sports car up, and who phoned his mates from the car phone because they were having a party.  There was a girl who spoke two languages (her dad was Portuguese, I seem to remember) who told me all about her house hockey competition and being head girl.  There were tales of young people being met by head honchos with special names and welcomed to the colleges with the preparation of their fathers’ old rooms.  There were modern-ish Junior Common Rooms, but despite my wafting through at half past one, nobody was watching Neighbours and I, clutching my NUS card and Doctor Martens, felt like a fish out of water.

A student already, a girl from the local FE college, I’d left the small minded, hierarchical world of school behind me – and in my innocence thought everyone else had too.  I thought I was living in a meritocracy.  I thought that what you knew, not who you knew, was the thing.  That’s the thing about social mobility, I suppose.  Maybe it does matter which school you go to, or which ladder you climb, but not in the way you would like to think.

 

 

PS I didn’t go to Oxford and I didn’t study English Literature 😉

Craving

Sometimes I crave chocolate.  I long for the sweet melting, the instant hit.  I don’t drink coffee.  I don’t drink tea.  I never craved for coal, or cabbages.  But sometimes: chocolate.

More often, I crave sleep. Long, unbroken stretches of peaceful  slumber, the sort that carry on into the later hours of the morning.  The sort where I can lie, comfortable, without having to go to the loo, or put anyone back to bed, check anyone’s temperature, mop up sick or change wet beds, the way I used to when I was young.

When I was young there was no need for craving. The life free from responsibility, from care, where sleep comes when you wish, when sugary snacks are yours, no consequences asked. No eyebrows twitched with anxiety because everything was open to opportunity and everyone was invincible.

Now that I am older I distrust those who forge into the future with certainty, throwing caution to the wind.  I crave a time when the well of anxiety runs dry, when the weight you carry for one child means that the concern you have for another doesn’t drown you, helpless, in its depths. I quietly long for the days I remember, when vulnerability was a faraway concept.