Still Only Week Four
I’ve already begun to lose track, but I think we are coming to the end of our fourth week of lockdown. I’m not sure the drama of the title ‘lockdown’ matches the reality of the experience, because we all seem to be wandering about more than might be expected under a genuine deprivation of liberty, supplies in the shops are plentiful again, now that people have stopped being either daft or greedy about what they buy, and the sun is shining in what must only be deliberate irony. It felt like it rained almost every day from the end of September to the start of March, but the moment we’re all told to stay indoors the sun came out and seemed determined to enjoy the occasion.
The good news is that it turns out that only two things about me are irritating to those with whom I am sharing the intimacy of the lockdown experience. The bad news is that the first is everything I say and the second is everything I do. What to me appear to be sensible measures to manage food waste and temporarily scarce supplies, such as a daily run-through of sell-by dates to ensure product rotation, and an ongoing attempt to calculate average daily toilet roll usage, turn out to be intensely aggravating, obsessive and controlling behaviours that place undue stress on my co-inhabitants and violate the norms of reasonableness. It is not the virus that will get me, it will be a rolling pin to the temple or a carving knife between the shoulder blades.
The whole situation is perhaps best summed up by the picture of two women talking to each other in a kitchen in a post-virus world. One says to the other, ‘Where’s your husband?’ to which the other replies, ‘He’s in the garden.’ The first woman is looking out of the window and says. ‘I can’t see him’. The second says, ‘You have to dig a little.’
The comedian Zoe Lyons did a segment on The Now Show on Radio 4 at the weekend, reflecting on the various disappointments that the lockdown has brought her, not least those she feels about herself. She described how her excuse over the years for not being more creative – from writing a novel to producing a tapestry in the style of the Flemish masters – was a lack of time. But now that she has found she has time on her hands in abundance, it turns out that it wasn’t the lack of time that was the problem, it was her lack of talent and self-discipline.
It already feels like a long time ago, even though it was only a few weeks, but I remember the feeling of uncertainty in the days before the announcement of school closures was finally made. I wanted someone to make a decision so that we could move to the next, inevitable stage. I also recall harbouring some more selfish thoughts that spending more time at home might allow opportunities for leisure pursuits and to tackle a few of those jobs on the ‘to do’ list that a perceived lack of time had prevented.
This is not meant to elicit any sympathy, not least because I am acutely aware of how very fortunate I am in comparison to so many, but trying to run a school operating a remote learning system turns out to be much harder work than normal. I have seen from watching my wife adapting to remote teaching how difficult it is for classroom teachers, but it turns out to be quite a challenge from a leadership and management perspective as well.
When we are all in the school building, I can work at my desk with the office door open for the first hour of the day, which allows colleagues to drop in and ask questions or seek advice. I always enjoy the opening line of ‘Have you got a minute?’, secure in the knowledge that no such conversations are ever completed in sixty seconds, but it’s usually relatively easy to make a decision or suggest a way forward that allows the other person to get on with their day. Likewise, during those regular trips to the café, and consequently the toilet, there are opportunities to meet people and talk – well, not in the toilet, obviously!
Most of these simple interactions have now been removed, with questions needing to be answered via email, in a chat room or with a phone call. Each one now takes considerably longer and requires more effort of crafting and thought, because it is so easy to be misconstrued in writing, particularly when people can’t see your face and interpret more easily whether you are joking or not. During the first week away from the school building, I am fairly confident I received and sent more emails than in any other week of my career. Like everything else, I am sure it will settle down, but the novel and the Flemish tapestry still seem a long way off just now.