Firstly, apologies if I’ve cornered you IRL or otherwise in some way over Covid. I can’t seem to help it and it is becoming a bit…problematic. Annoying, probably, or boring at least, and certainly for me it is the closest I’ve come to feeling overwhelmed by anxiety and righteous fury and deadened despair. I’m normally so robust! So mild-mannered! So Guardian-y and leftish and gently, nervously tiptoe-y ‘hope-I-don’t-offend-anyone’ when it comes to politics. I always thought the papers were smart and that governments were quite sensible, on the whole. Maybe even a little interchangeable. But OH I don’t feel like that any more. The schools won’t open after the Christmas break and I doubt they will open effectively until Easter, which would make it a year that kids in this country have had seriously disrupted, half-arsed education. The remote learning is a sad little substitute at the best of times, the quarantining of perfectly healthy kids frequent, teachers spread thinly as their colleagues are sent home after PCR tests tell them (and everyone they’ve been in contact with) that they are positive.
My kids are pretty much fine. We have a small flat but enough old laptops and spare phones to facilitate five of them accessing online lessons although the quality of that (and the so far complete absence of actual teachers popping up on screens in a facsimile of a classroom situation – something that has yet to happen) is not convincing at all. It seems every school has done things a little differently and I am sympathetic to that but OH MY GIDDY AUNT there is very little learning being done this way. And I say that fully aware of my luck and privilege to be able to be here, present, physically in the flat, monitoring the ‘learning’ (hollow laugh) and not having to split my attention by doing paid work other than my usual freelance odd hours that can fit in with the round robin of shared tabletop time. (I don’t actually have any paid work and haven’t had since the beginning of 2020, that bastard of a year, but I count my nearly-finished novel as my ‘work’ because if you discount that, I am just a very bad housekeeper).
My family is functional, my flat is warm, we have snacks in the fridge. But there are many children who do not have comfortable home lives and the school closure condemns them to staying locked in there. Kids with unsafe homes and unsafe carers and no access to remote learning. We know there are those kids out there. Of course, we know the government has opened the schools up to them, the vulnerable children, but we also know that many of those kids will not be turning up. They didn’t turn up in vast numbers last time, and that is probably because vulnerable kids slip through the cracks because they are vulnerable. It’s hard to picture those kids if you don’t really know any. I suspect the people campaigning to close schools do not know any. I also suspect most of them have been able to complete their own education in relative peace and security and have somehow forgotten what that means. Being safe, being able to learn in an appropriate, supportive environment, being surrounded by teachers and friends who are all in the business of helping everyone become their best selves, socially, educationally, and otherwise. When did that become a privilege afforded just to the lucky ones in the olden days?
Then there is the hideous gap between the luckiest kids and the rest of them. The luckiest kids will have a school that manages remote learning well. There will be accountability and regular check-ins, face-time with teachers, enough devices to go around. A space that is quiet. Some will have online tutors to help them with gaps and to give them an advantage. The rest of them will find themselves somewhere on that spectrum between wealthy and lucky and poor and unlucky. And what does all that do after a ten year Governmental effort to close those gaps? It destroys all the work done. It opens the gap wider, creating a bloody great Grand Canyon of inequality. We we never equal, right? But this…this finishes off even the illusion and the hope of equality good and proper.
Before the latest school closure, a friend of mine who teaches says that when the kids got back to school in the Autumn, her staff were astounded by how much knowledge the kids had already lost. Big red crosses next to most of the kid’s names. And the Government, alert to those losses, threw the equivalent of about £20 per kid to help close that gap again.
I mean, I despair. And I despair that kids are retreating into their phones even deeper, sat around their flats and in bedrooms (if they are lucky enough to have a bedroom of their own – five of mine share theirs), finishing netflix and finding online girlfriends in other countries so they can’t actually meet them IRL – instead texting them all the time in their best approximation of what a big boy might write (I speak from experience here *wink*). I despair that they aren’t able to sashay down a school corridor like Marianne and Connor could do, brushing past someone they fancy and getting that rush of teenage swooning lusty feeling that is rare and short-lived and ephemeral and magical. That they can’t meet up legally with their dorky mates and hang out, talking who knows what kind of shit to each other and learning from all that boisterous loutish showy-offy stuff. Instead, they are growing up inside, told to be scared, told they are likely to make someone sick. That avoidance of risk trumps everything. That they are super spreaders. Might kill a grandma. Act like you are sick, says Matt Hancock.
I’m in the business of kids so this stuff matters to me. I am in the business of trying to raise fearless, good people. I thought we had a system that wanted to support me in this, that sought to nurture the best out of all kids, no matter where they came from and what they had to offer. But now, in the pursuit of saving the NHS, we are dismantling the education system. Children are being punished and they are making sacrifices they can’t conceive they are making and it is rotten. Ugly. Immoral.
So. There is that to think of on this first day of the new year. We did as we were told and didn’t celebrate with anyone. We did what we usually do on any locked-in evening which is watch TV. I tried to get the kids to watch Little Miss Sunshine but the husband gave up and went to bed, Barnaby started deep diving into his phone again and Casper fell asleep. I sent them all to bed at 11:27pm (so close) in a bit of a rage (‘why don’t you guys TRY HARDER?’) but came out again into the living room with Barnaby so I could show him what happened at midnight.
Nothing happened at midnight. I sent him up the stairs to watch the few fireworks being lit and one nearly landed on his face, so I guess that happened. He came back down the stairs and we looked at our phones – him to one of the girlfriend threads he seems to have many of and me to rage on Twitter about Covid things and then I tried to go to sleep but it didn’t come. The baby, usually so good at sleeping, usually waking at 6:30am-ish, went for a new year, new him early-riser 4:30am thing and so I struggled out into the living room with him to find the dog had gone through the rubbish, tin foil and chicken bone shards everywhere.
I slept on the couch a little with the baby, trying to fob him off on Sesame Street music clips, hoping that the kids would wake up and sit with him and relieve me but those little sleepy buggers couldn’t wake up after their exciting night of distracted uncommitted movie-watching and so I gave in and made Remi and I bacon and eggs. Two coffees later, kids awake, husband out of bed, I went for a run (good) and then came home and ate eight Ferrero Rochers (less good).
Now I am tired. I am expecting nothing from this year but an insidious backsliding into an unrecognisable, unimaginable new normal. God help us.
Photos to sift the sombre tone.
Noah had a little role in a documentary about a brilliant watchmaker, playing him as a 70s child. Here he is being filmed by Nigella’s DOP in a rambling enormous house in Crouch End one weekend. He was clearly a cinematic star:
Baby goes to Wagamamas before the last lockdown:
Otis looking joyful and in need of a haircut:
Christmas earrings. I kind of forgot to write about Christmas but because of the Tier system our holiday to Devon was cancelled. Christmas was reduced to a greyish sock found under the couch covered in dog hair. But these earrings were lovely:
Something we are allowed to do – go into the park and spend some time in there but not with more than one other person. Thank God for the park:
Here’s to better times, eh? While that sentiment feels as hollow as my sense of humour lately, let’s hope it all comes good somehow.