Pen To Print

Monday Memoirs: Value vs Values

Introduced by Holly King

In the months that we’ve been in lockdown, our lives have been thrown up in the air and our regimes scattered about on the floor, like the good old game of 52-Card Pickup (beware if your grandad asks you to play a game of cards that you’ve never heard of). I’ve had many conversations with friends and family where we exclaim to each other that we don’t know what we did with all our time. I have found that, while before this I would get up, get dressed, cook breakfast, make coffee, pack a bag and be out the door in 40 minutes max,  I have now slowed down. I have learnt the value of time. If the train is a little late, or there’s a queue, or if I don’t check the time every five minutes, the world won’t implode and my day won’t be ruined. Actually, it’s quite nice to just go about my day without worrying about the time so much.

This week, we’re taking a look at what we value versus what we thought had valued before. In stark contrast to my unstructured days, where breakfast can take up to an hour, Deputy Editor of Write On! Claire Buss has even less time. She’s been handed the title of Home-School Teacher on top of her pile of other responsibilities, which we read about in two of her recent blog posts. Lockdown is different for each of us, and it’s important to have empathy and realise that everyone is spinning plates at the moment, but some are also juggling at the same time, while balancing on a tightrope.

The Reluctant Teacher

There are a few teachers in my family and it’s often been said that I should have been a teacher. Apparently, I have ‘qualities’. In my previous life, I did, in fact, teach adults: IT and employability skills as well as NVQ assessing in Admin and IT. Even now, I run Buss’s Book Surgeries for Pen to Print to share what I’ve learnt so far on my author journey.

But teaching children, for me, was always a no-no. I have absolutely no desire to spend all day in a classroom with 30-odd kids, no matter whether they are teenys or teenagers. To be honest, I’m not sure which is worse.

Then lockdown happened, and now I’m a teacher. Thankfully, only for one-and-a-half children. My little girl is two, so she does some things with us but she’s not quite up for writing short stories using differential nouns and bossy verbs.

A class of one should be an easy task, then. Only it’s not. My son is on the spectrum, as well as having some fine motor control issues and I knew he was having difficulty with some aspects of school but didn’t have the first-hand experience of a) watching him struggle and b) trying to teach him. It’s so hard.

It’s soul-destroyingly hard for both of us. It’s been suggested I just don’t bother, but I’m not sure that’s the best plan. Having a routine helps my boy know where he is and what he should be doing. Not being at school with his teachers or friends is strange, although the longer lockdown continues, the more used to it he becomes. That worries me for what going back to school will be like for him,  but that’s a problem for another day.

The other thing that is hard, is picking through the set work from school, the helpful links sent by friends and traversing the million and one online resources available. I am swimming in ‘stuff’ we could do but trying to tailor it to my son’s thought patterns is tough. He just doesn’t think like I do.

I’m getting there, though. We’ve worked out a reasonably satisfactory scenario. I feel he’s doing something, he hates every minute of it and every day a couple of sums are beaten into submission and at least one sentence is written from start to finish with semi-legible letters.

We will continue to battle our way through daily Maths and English. Every time I tell him we have to write something, it’s as though he has a small breakdown. It’s all I can do to keep his bum on the very uncomfortable kitchen chair.

Plus, I have to try to not get cross. I have some patience, but screaming children, a very small flat, no garden, a dairy intolerance (no chocolate!!) and the constant parental guilt of not getting it right, means I get cross more often than not.

If I stop trying to home-school him,  I worry he will fall further behind and the leap for him into KS2 from September onwards will be an even bigger chasm to cross. So each school day I set my alarm, try to get up with a smile and begin again. That’s really all any of us can do.

Half-Term Lockdown

Week 10. Week 10 of lockdown. Ten weeks of being inside with my small people. Ten weeks of home-schooling. Ten weeks. It certainly feels like a milestone, doesn’t it?

In the beginning, we sort of muddled along for a couple of weeks sticking to school start time and length, because the schools would be opening again after the Easter holidays, wouldn’t they? We had our Easter break, didn’t go and visit the grandparents, but did manage an Easter egg hunt, and it was all right. The kids spent way too much time on screens, but it was the holidays.

Then we went back to home-school and this time there was a lot more direction from the school website. They had become more serious. So we stuck to our routine, mixed it up a bit, added some extra breaks and finished a bit earlier, because… you know what? Being indoors, all the time, with your kids, all the time, and having to interact with them, all the time, despite any plans you might have to do anything for yourself, they want you all the time! Screen time continues to be a big feature.

I have a day job. Yes, I might be a stay-at-home mum, but I work as well and my work can easily fill an entire day, with no breaks from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed, late. I am not pushed for things to do. So usually half-term for me would be the resignation of knowing that I’m not going to get anything done for a week, because I’ll be entertaining the smalls, taking them out, visiting people, going places and having fun.

That feeling of resignation has been my constant companion since lockdown began. Together with parental guilt, varying stages of panic and worry, plus a general sense of what the hell???

I have absolutely no idea what we will be doing this half-term, apart from ‘not a lot’. I need a break from key-stage one Maths and English. I don’t want to colour-in. I don’t think I could watch an animated cartoon/film if you paid me a million dollars and I cannot play another game of snakes and ladders!

But, hey, it’s not all doom and gloom. We’ve got another seven weeks of school and then… the summer holidays!!!

See you on the other side. Maybe.

Follow Claire’s blog: http://butidontlikesalad.blogspot.com/

Connect with Claire on Twitter: @grasshopper2407 and on Instagram: @grasshopper2407

*****

Now we take a step back and away to where Josephine Gee reminisces about the key values she drew from her Corfu trip in the ‘60s. She remembers what was so special about it and why it has remained so vividly imprinted on her mind for decades.

Corfu In 1968 

I remember when I first arrived at the island of Corfu: how I drank in, almost too deeply, great heady draughts of steel-blue cloudless skies, the ceaseless singing of the crickets and the rich concoctions of Mediterranean aromas: thyme, fennel, rosemary and donkeys.

There were twelve of us, all students, who were to stay a month at the house described in Lawrence Durrell’s book Prospero’s Cell, as A white dice with green shutters balanced on the edge of the bay. If I remember rightly, there were seven boys in our party and five girls. Some of us knew one another before the holiday, but we all ended up knowing one another very well by the end of it. It was no Love Island, though. Really, the sixties were pretty straight-laced compared with today. We just enjoyed one another’s company, looked out for each other and shared expenses as fairly as possible. We even helped one another to have a shower! There were no bathrooms in the establishment, just a cold shower in the yard, which you could only enjoy  if someone else was pumping the handle for you. If the water supply temporarily ran out before you  rinsed your hair, it was especially unfortunate if it was still full of shampoo!

I spent hours in the sea. Along the way, I acquired fins, a mask and snorkel, and  loved diving under the soft green water, exploring the treasures beneath, such as black prickly sea-urchins and beautiful starfish.

We made friends with the locals, too. There was a village perched up on the hill high above us, which could only be reached by a steep, narrow path. I can see the pale, rocky earth of that path now, bordered as it was with craggy rocks, sweet-smelling vegetation and many unseen chirruping crickets. Women in headscarves and heavy loads would labour up it, having just disembarked from the small boat which had taken them and their shopping from Kerkira, the main town of Corfu. I loved that boat. We used it to buy our groceries from Kerkira. The local people would sit on wooden benches nursing their bundles and I felt thoroughly at home among them. Friendliness was shown by gap-toothed smiles and sometimes samples of the delicacies within their bundles and baskets: fresh figs, plums and pomegranates. The fruit tasted wonderful; we bought lots of it ourselves. Even now, whenever I think back, I hanker after the exquisite taste of those first fresh figs. Greek yoghurt became another passion.  It was sold in shallow tubs, not the deep pots we have these days, and had a delicious skin on top which, if sprinkled liberally with fine sugar, melted into heaven.

I once arrived in Kerkira to find a baby had been born to the Greek royal family. The whole town was hung with banners of rejoicing and people were dancing and celebrating in the streets. This was an opportunity to try out some of the local beverages. Ouzo was the Greek equivalent of German Schnapps – ideally to be downed in one gulp and followed by something that would dilute it before it could burn a hole in one’s stomach. So Ouzo was always accompanied by a large glass of iced water. Coffee was served in much the same way. Greek coffee was like expresso, but even stronger and more gritty. One could happily while away an afternoon drinking such a coffee, especially if one had interesting company or frequently, in my case, a Collins phrase book. With the help of this phrase book, my constant companion when I was out and about, and a certain amount of practice with the locals, I became the interpreter for our party. Why is memory so fickle? All that hard-won vocabulary has slipped away like dry sand through fingers.

One last thing. When we visited Kerkira, we had to come back with some food and  could choose whatever we fancied. This led to some rather novel combinations. Once, we were confronted with the knotty problem of what to do with a five-pound tin of apricot jam and a whole Edam cheese. Nobby (one of the men in our party) was a bit of a comedian and I remember him taking a slice of the cheese, garnished with a spoonful of the apricot jam. To our great amusement, he declared it to be rather delicious.

Later, when my children arrived on the scene, I found the only way they would eat cheese was with a spoonful of jam on top.  As we were living in Germany at the time, our German friends thought it was a quaint English habit.

And much later, when my children were grown up and had left home, I visited Corfu again, but the magic was gone.

I was just a tourist from a cruise ship. Seeing superficially and moving on.

Read more of Josephine’s memoirs on her blog: postwar-londonchildhood.blogspot.com/2008/04

Show And Tell It Like It Is by Wallis Eates

Visit Wallis’s online shop – www.etsy.com/uk/shop/WallisEates

She is also involved with several initiatives:

Like An Orange – a graphic novel about brain injury and creativity funded by the Arts Council National Lottery and crowdfunding with publishers Unbound Books. To support, please visit here: www.unbound.com/books/like-an-orange

Wings – a visual storybook from prison. Coming soon. Please get in touch for more information. In the meantime, you can visit here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/littlemule/wings-a-make100-visual-storybook-from-prison

Wallis is also the London co-ordinator of Laydeez Do Comics – https://laydeezdocomics.wordpress.com/

Connect with them on Twitter: @laydeezdocomics

Read Issue 4 of Write On! magazine online.

Lockdown is different for each of us, and it’s important to have empathy and realise that everyone is spinning plates at the moment, but some are also juggling at the same time, while balancing on a tightrope.