Mrs Gran at the Village School

I have purposely not blogged a great deal about the pandemic; so little happening in our lives and such a difficult time for everyone. It is not that I haven’t had time on my hands, but to be honest the dramas have been few and far between. As the restrictions tighten their stranglehold on our lifestyle there is little opportunity for drama that is interesting. I do try to stay loyal to my theme sharing only dramas from home and abroad, and if there are none well… I can hear the Lion sighing with relief on that one… I cannot write too much about nothing, can I ?

Following the Christmas break, life returned to the tight confines of The Danders, and it was becoming dull again. The Christmas Trees were tidily packed away, the fairy lights twinkles doused and abandoned in a box. The flashing strobes removed from the outside walls, their alternating colours no longer suggesting a police car had pulled up outside. Then in a sign of things to come the schools holidays were extended for another week. Parents around the country, stoked up on Gin, home working AND home schooling would surely take them to the brink of addiction.

This announcement actually coincided with an abundant snowfall and suddenly the challenges of being hemmed in the house were forgotten as the air was filled with the sounds of children’s chatter and howls of delight as snowballs crisscrossed the street and sledging replaced Mario Cart. Parents, glad of the period of respite, swarmed around the takeaway coffee shop before heading to the local hill with kids and sledges and dogs in tow. Suddenly the Village was buzzing with life and the combination of sunshine and snow returned a lifeless street to a bustling winter wonderland with socially distant observations. It was amidst these freezing but delightful conditions, the First Minister took the decision to close the schools as the pandemic developed a new and more concerning strain.

Home Schooling was the bane of all parents lives during the last lockdown. The media exhausted the perspectives of parents, teachers and of course children and young people in endless news coverage, confirming what everyone felt last time; home schooling was a difficult job, no matter who was calling it. I paid no heed to this unfolding development taking only a passing interest in something that was likely to have very little impact on me. That’s what I thought, but all that changed as my grandchildren needed to reside with me two nights and three days a week as their parents were both Key workers. Suddenly I was looking down the barrel of the home school vortex but I relished the challenge.

Ironically the house next door in its former role as “The Old School House” was much more familiar with the sound of children reciting their tables than The Danders, but they were doing their own version of home schooling there and we couldn’t join them due to restrictions. I’d never trained as a teacher and despite being a professional trainer for a period there was something a bit daunting about the challenge ahead of me, not least that my grandson was in P1 and my grand daughter was in P6. The last time I was in a classroom it was all about blackboards and desks with lids and fixed seats. Imagine my horror when a series of laptops and tablets arrived along with the usual bags of clothes and games that accompanied the children on their sleepovers. I was emailed the weekly planners for each child all that was required was to organise my classroom.

As with every good teacher I spent the evening reviewing how my day would run, a quick review of the planners suggested a busy couple of days ahead and it is fair to say I had an idyllic concept of how things might work. Then the proverbial hit the fan. The Christmas break had taken its toll on early rises, and the kids seemed to have forgotten to read my plans. I was up and dressed but had to spend the next half hour switching between bedrooms to get them awake and ready for school, as a result we were fashionably late Once I had them assembled and eating breakfast my first task was to delineate the boundaries between home and school. “Welcome boys and girls” I chanted in my best teacher’s voice pitching it at the right tone inciting motivation and and positivity . “Good Morning”. “What will we call you?” piped up the little tiger. After some thought I said Mrs C would be fine, but the mermaid did not like that at all. “Mrs Gran” smirked the little tiger and this brought giggles so it was decided this school would be fun and Mrs Gran was inducted as principal teacher of the Danders Village School.

Lessons in my day centred around jotters and carbon pencils, peppered with playtime, what ever the weather, and toilets with carbolic soap. Now we had SeeSaw and Microsoft Teams, with interactive classrooms and video messaging between teacher and pupil. I totally underestimated the way the little tiger would be able to manage the technology and overestimated how much I would be able to master it. Two calls to my daughter later I was able to open the APP and find the work assignments for the day. I had not considered that time would fly past so much more quickly than I had been used to, nor how much the teacher time on Video Calls would eat into my perfectly well orchestrated plan for the day. “Is it break time yet?” And that was just me. Between calls scheduled with their teachers at different times, coordinating playtime and preparing lunch, I found my hope of achieving any lesson before 12 virtually impossible.

As I attempted to assist the mermaid with her Maths I did not realise that models had been introduced to help with short division, and I don’t mean the Kate Moss variety. It took me nearly a whole hour to get my head around the method of learning to enable us to complete this complex task. Across the table I caught a glimpse of the wine rack and longingly thought of my retirement plans before the pandemic took hold, wistfully hoping they might soon return. Focusing back on the Math the mermaid had completed the initial work but the flashing HAND IN LATE on her assignment sent us both into apoplexy as it dawned on me there was only an hour left in the day to get through the 4 assignments we had yet to tackle. My perfectly styled hair flopped untidily into my eyes from all the fingers running through it as I tried to console her admitting it was Mrs Grans first failure. She sensed I was not coping bless her, and hugged me. “Can we leave it till tomorrow?” she pleaded. “Of course” I smiled, Mrs Gran, secretly delighted; I was exhausted.

Meanwhile the Lion had been left to manage the little tiger who was running rings around him. With horror I realised I had missed the 3pm check in call with the teacher and collapsed defeated into the chair. His 8 assignments had been completed and I reviewed the videos, pictures and answer sheets he had uploaded (largely unaided) to demonstrate he had gotten through the day relatively unscathed. I read with some satisfaction the congratulatory messages from his teacher as the little tiger poked me in the arm to get my attention “Mrs Gran” he enquired “what are we having for dinner………………….”

And I am not working, not a teacher, not even a good pretend teacher, and my grandchildren’s future depended on it. The Danders Village School and Mrs Gran needed to up its game, only tomorrow would tell whether or not we achieved it..

The silence is so Loud though.

I have three windows that overlook a path which leads down to the River Almond, a haven for walkers, families, dogs and sometimes even horses. There is also a kick pitch and tennis court located there so, despite it being a dead end, cars do congregate there albeit in low numbers to use the services or access the river walk. This same path also provides a short cut to the main shopping area and industrial estate, for all of those people living on the west side of the Village. All of this contributes to a miasma of people, vehicles and animals passing by our windows, albeit colourful but with monotonous regularity. A couple of years ago we purchased shutters since many of the walkers feel the need to nosey in as they pass by. And since two of the windows are on the kitchen we might be mid meal when this happens. Not that we use them all the time but increasingly privacy has become necessary as the better weather invites increased numbers of people tracking back and forth and the peering eyes were becoming tiresome.

All of this is a daily feature of life at the Danders, except that is for Christmas Day. Not for the first time on Christmas Day I have been struck by the loudness of the silence. No one walking dogs, no-one driving past, no one out for a river walk. The silence of Christmas Day has a rich quality that conflates with the magic of Christmas morning, adding to the weight of serenity and anticipation of the day ahead. A feast for the ears. it is broken only by the clanging of a single bell from the local Church announcing Christs birth and the beginning of the service. I have always noticed this silence and valued it, appreciating what it adds to my experience of Christmas. But it’s now something we are experiencing daily as part of Lockdown and I fear not only that the magic of that one day has been stolen, but strangely I am longing for the noise, the detritus of community life to return.

The first notable silence was created by the lack of flights, we do sit beneath one of the routes into Edinburgh Airport. This is not so much about the noise but the constant sight of aircraft coming and going and the wistful envy to be aboard the ones heading out at least. The vehicles were next; the growl of the engines, dependent on the age of the drivers, signal the speed, age of the driver and make of the approaching vehicle before we see it. For some vehicles it was so regular we knew just from looking at the clock who was coming and going from the neighbours across the bridge, to the man walking dogs as a business. It is a dead end and walkers often stroll carefree on this road, the corner concealing the walkers aided by the neighbours fence, which does not provide any signs warning “SLOW DOWN pedestrians” and so we often watch heart in mouth as some cars increase the revs as the downslope appears. It can be such a hazard when you cannot see ahead of you but thankfully we have yet to experience any causing any harm. Now only the Police Cars are making that journey, prowling for any of the rule-breakers.

Lone walkers, (presumably they are heading to work given their backpacks) heads down, earphones protruding either linked to their phones by wires or Bluetooth, getting in the zone for the day ahead, have been massively reduced in numbers as the economic shutdown has taken hold. Cyclists on the other hand, have remained a constant feature, the Lycra wearing cyclists mainly, usually serious about their activity and seeking the thrill of endurance. Since we are on the R75, the main cycle path between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the Lycra wearing cyclists are fairly frequent. Now they are joined by those families eager to break the chains of Lockdown, some with helmets some without, none with Lycra, most with jeans, many with children in tow can be seen tackling the Brae up from the River. Chatter seems to cease ahead of the Brae as all energies are garnered as they prepare to tackle the steep hill or Brae leading to the choice of routes to either the east or west.

Families and dog walkers, of course have continued to feature just in greater numbers. An assortment of woolly hats, bulky jackets, prams and scooters toddle past at a leisurely pace. Even in the good weather this is the attire (we are in Scotland!) If I am in the kitchen I am 4 feet higher and look down on them like a giant. This can be quite frightening for the little ones so in these difficult times I needed to show my friendly side. I now have a rainbow thanks to my young neighbour and that delights the children as they add it to their counting list, pausing for a moment to admire it. Sometimes my grandchildren wander past out with their mum, dad and the dog. Well every other day actually. I can hear the wee tiger cub and the mermaid calling in unison “GRAN” ( please note not Papa aka the Lion, they know where the bread is buttered) as they approach in the hope we are close enough to hear them. We often make a joke that the three windows onto the path are a bit like a trip to MacDonalds. And so it is that they stop at each window to put in an order for the chocolate biscuit and a drink. Since Lockdown the shutters are gathering dust, standing open at all times, demonstrating the need for contact through a socially acceptable distance and because we now appreciate the passers by waving in, smiling and peering in as such a welcome addition to our day.

Lockdown, like any other circumstance that forces change, of course has it’s benefits. Taking the passers-by and the noisy landscape for granted demonstrates how much we relied on it in the past, and missed it when it was gone. Something so simple that puts us back in our box, longing to make eye contact with other people, longing to hear aircraft filling our skies, longing to hear and see our grandchildren for more than a biscuit.

We ourselves have also been out and about waving and smiling at others we pass at a safe distance. We have also been taking time to stop if a face appears in the window, seeking to reassure them that life is still going on despite the national crisis and if they are OK or need anything. Our daily exercise a much needed escape from the confines of the Danders, which despite being my Shangri-La, does not respond too well to the lack of people within it. And so it was we were out for our daily exercise, a good five miles moving at a reasonable pace when quite innocuously my hip went snap….. the sair leg was back again, just like that, and suddenly I could walk no further………

Christmas at the Danders

Coronavirus- now in my back yard!

Our final stopover of the trip was to be in Bali, the beautiful Indonesian Island, promising peace and tranquility. A place where we might re-charge our batteries before heading home. The four day stopover was all inclusive, meaning you had little more to do than summon the Balinese waiter with the press of a button to bring you a cocktail as you lounged by the sea. The beds on the beach provided a serene outlook shaded with palms, and you were entertained by the antics of the paddle board rookies as they tried to master the waves. The rush of the waves to the shore, the blistering heat and the cool long drinks affirmed for sure, we were in paradise.

Our resort was within a gated community of around 17 hotels, our Hotel, the Melia Bali, was a grand affair with several restaurants, bars and for the strenuous among us, beach and pool activities to keep the calories at bay. We were initially unaware that somewhere close by a British Woman had died from Coronavirus and when the story did reach us it did little to provide any real context of the scope of the virus now, as opposed to when we left Britain in February.

This tragedy had occurred the week before we arrived and may well have resulted in a slightly stricter regime at immigration when we arrived on the Island. On immediate entry to the immigration hall we had to sign a declaration that we had not experienced any symptoms. Signing this with your name, passport number and next of kin was obligatory and somewhat sobering. Then we were placed through a screening process where those of us with high temperatures would be turned away. We had experienced screening at several airports along the journey but not as vigorous or individualistic as this. It raised the tempo considerably for us but not in a way that threatened our holiday. News items from Australia suggested that Australians should not travel to Bali. Being in our bubble I wondered what the drama was with this, since, as I have said, we had no context for it. Australia then went into lockdown preventing anyone arriving in the country from travelling onward, requiring a 14 day quarantine.

As we sipped our daily cocktails, oblivious to the reality, the world continued to collapse around about us. The waiters here provided constant hand sanitiser all around the hotel, other than that overt gestures that Coronavirus was crippling the country were absent, it was pretty much a non-event, if you were a tourist. Apart from the low numbers in the hotel, to us life was pretty much as it had been for the past 4 weeks, a holiday. How painful it would be when we were kicked into touch in just a few days. Lots of information from my kids, seemed to suggest that we might need to isolate when we got home. I scoffed at this claiming the UK had gotten things a little out of proportion, after all we were in areas also affected and life was going on as normal? Was it not? I’m ashamed to admit we were in a total bubble and it was going to be a very hard floor that we hit when we finally came back to earth.

As we cruised at around 35 000 feet from Bali to Glasgow in nothing short of luxury, we sipped champagne and munched on filet steak, watching the latest movies on ICE oblivious to reality. Little did we know what we were coming back to. Of course we had seen the FB images of empty shelves in the shops, but put this down to our eccentric behaviour as a nation rather than it conveying any real sense of crisis. As if to re-affirm our nonchalance to the matter in hand, our arrival at Glasgow Airport did nothing to dissuade me of my belief it was all a storm in a tea cup. We careered through the Airport unhindered with only customs seizing the chance to upset us by checking our luggage. How disappointed they must have been when they realised we had little but cases full of dirty washing. No-one quizzed us on where we had been, no mass screening, a swift check of the passport and out to our waiting driver to head home. If things were as bad as our children were suggesting how could this be the case?

The reality hit me when the grandkids were kept at a distance, because we had been on a flight and abroad in countries where the virus had claimed lives. My daughter, who is studying to be a Nurse, was somewhat more in the know than me. We realised, very quickly that self-isolation was the only way we might get to see our grandchildren. We sat alone in our home for seven days, watching the news and catching up to the place everyone else was already at. I ventured out to the shops, since the cupboards were almost empty and could hardly believe the shelves were so low. Someone commented that “at least there was bread” as if it was an unusual thing. We had been transported to another planet, I thought.

You know when you’ve been fast asleep and wake up suddenly, you get a bit confused trying to recall how you get here and got into bed. It was much the same as that for us; what was this world we were now living in? It was clear the bubble we had been part of during our holiday had finally burst – and it was traumatic. Slowly during our week of isolation I finally appreciated what needed to be done. I have to say it took us a week to actually process the information and get the message. A week later on the Monday night we were in Lockdown and that was any time with the grandchildren well and truly scuppered.

Life has altered dramatically in the space of five weeks. No Mass ( during LENT!!!), no social gatherings, social distancing between neighbours and all our family over 70 locked away in their little houses with no-one to see them or hug them. It’s a devastating time for many. But we have been so fortunate to even have had a holiday at all, many cannot get away, losing money in some cases. All the trips we had to look forward to are also gone now but at least we had one that was pretty amazing.

How will we cope? What will life be like in isolation for so long, will there be new ways to live our lives? Will we seek out contacts through social media? How will we shop for our every day needs, when all the slots are taken for months on end? Every day, in this new reality of mine, I am grateful for my health, grateful for our NHS staff and Care Workers, all of the shop workers and delivery drivers, pharmacists and teachers, social workers and police officers, dealing with the reality of this awful crisis. Meanwhile I am still trying to get my head around what it all might mean? I have now well and truly admitted that Coronavirus is now in my back yard.