From Steph in London: Sartorial Elegance

Steph is a retired educationalist who has lived and worked in London since the 70’s

16 November.

Not sure whether to believe the hype around the proposed vaccine. Having watched Tigger Hancock talk about world beating and game changing ad nauseam I will believe it when I get the call from the doctor to go and get it…..

Then what? Do we have to wait until every adult we know has had  it or can we go out untouchable and safe for others? And – going out means wearing something acceptable……

My mother always had make-up on, friends vary from the smart casual to the ‘whatever’ schools of elegance….whilst in these bizarre times it’s interesting to see what we are all wearing….

Work uniforms out of the window, going out clothes firmly in the wardrobes, comfortable shoes aplenty. There has been an easiness about wearing jeans, sweaters and trainers day after day. Even meeting on Zoom has seen a relaxation in styles- and yet the world has continued to go round despite the lack of cashmere and hand-made shoes…

If the downside is that we don’t necessarily look at our best the good news is that the environment must be in better shape because detergent use must be far less.

I haven’t opened my wardrobe  for weeks and the only decision I have to make is which jumper to wear – all very casual and no best clothes in sight! It’s comfortable and soothing not to have to think what to wear. However, to my horror I caught myself thinking that a pair of track suit bottoms would be even easier…’s been too long!

15 years ago we were in Hong Kong and went for a weekend to the island of Sanya not knowing that the Miss World competition was taking place in the hotel. We arrived  to be surrounded by a hundred beautiful young women and their very fierce minders. We watched with fascination as they were put through their paces, doing various competitions, games and modelling uber chic clothes.

The interesting thing was that although we saw them all bedecked in formal attire, smart casual and many bikinis, they all looked more beautiful  when they had  clothes on than when they were scantily attired.

On that note I’m going to order a new outfit for Xmas – got to look my best for splendid isolation…

From Steph in London: How many carrots to loosen a tooth?

 25 October

Having our usual Zoom chat- “What  news Jacob?”

I’ve got a wobbly tooth and I couldn’t wobble it out so I had a carrot. Do you know you need about 10 carrots to get a tooth out……there followed a detailed conversation about the strength of carrots versus the obstinacy of loose teeth when you are 7.

That’s what I miss- the incidental conversations that children initiate, that grandparents go along with, that remind us of the importance of a child’s perspective on the world.. Adults perspectives are far too jaundiced.

Jacob and his brother  had their 7th birthday in the summer. They usually have raucous fun filled birthday parties with loads of cake. That’s the good news.  The bad is that they live in Manchester and have been unable to have people in the house for months.. The party was cancelled 3 times and finally went ahead at an activity centre where only the children were allowed to go in. So picture 30 parents of 7 year  olds dropping off their offspring somewhere where they will have a great time and then come home exhausted…..a total win win….

The phenomena of unintended consequences looms large these days… but are they enough to change behaviours on a permanent basis? Thinking life on a daily basis is boring- the times we have walked out of the house without masks- but at least  it puts up the number of  steps walked!!

Socialising face to face has to be the gold standard, hugs gold star plus  and anything else is a pale second best….

Talking of which (a pale second bet)  – the rush to the bottom of competencies in the government. I have lost count of how my times Matt Hancock has had a foot in mouth moment ( has he had any successes?) The Track and Trace, the App, the spurious 6 people only in houses – if I had one iota of confidence that he has surrounded himself with people infinitely more competent than himself that he would listen to, I’d feel we were going to beat the virus. However, I remain dumbfounded that he is still in position.

Ditto Gavin Williamson. Ask any educationalist how they think he’s doing.. their answers are usually too blue to print… they are both playing with people’s lives- and Boris won’t move them whilst they detract from his lacklustre leadership…..

From Steph in London: Tempus Fugit

10 October

To my horror it’s over 2 months since I last blogged.. I’d love to say I have loads of news of activities or I’ve been writing a book or doing a PhD – but, and (probably accounts for the absence of blogs) life
appears to be much the same…spontaneity has gone out of the window ……

My opinion of the government handling of Covid gets no better – indeed as far as education is concerned I despair. My son is an admissions officer at a large university. His experience of this year’s selection was unbelievable. On day 1 they had 24,000 phone calls with over 1500 saying they were going to appeal the algorithm. Lo and behold our esteemed minister changes his mind and there are more thousands with predicted grades beating the doors down…. The rest is history but he worries for this year’s year 13- most courses are almost or already full with deferrals…. Not to mention the dictat from above that exams will go ahead whatever.. it’s almost as
if the minister puts his head in a bucket everything will go away and he won’t have to think or plan or do anything til it’s too late……..actually it feels like that with Covid management too…..

The summer has gone and we now have a file of cancelled activities- holidays, theatre, restaurant vouchers – how very very first world. When you see them all together you realise how privileged and spoilt we actually are….. There are hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs and livelihoods, not to mention people still getting Covid and being really ill (unlike the President, who seems to have dodged the bullet).

The thought of the long dark winter doesn’t appeal, the rules, such as they are, seem arbitrary and here’s hoping for a vaccine that works……

From Steph in London: Age shall not wither us – or has it? Apologies to the Bard

July 31. Eighteen years ago a group of 7 of us, who met only at parties (will we remember what they are?)  decided to meet for lunch to organise a 60 birthday party. We duly booked a table at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge and vaguely discussed the impending party. (Which incidentally never happened)

Moving forward to now – we have met every few months since then, visiting good and supposedly good restaurants in London and  the South East. It has become de rigueur to be together and share the things going on in our lives- the good and the bad and sadly, sometimes, the downright ugly.

Since then we have acquired several daughters and sons in law and 34 grandchildren between us. We have all gone from working full time to part time, to being active members in our communities.  3 out of 7 were magistrates across London. We were busy and active, interested and interesting.

We decided to  Zoom twice weekly and whilst we were locked down completely it worked-ish. However, as time has gone on our institutionalization has thrown up a few worrying observations…..

Our worlds have shrunk however hard we try to remain part of wider society. News has become almost parochial and whilst I hate to admit it some of us are ageing too quickly. Health has become an obsession, total self interest has come to the fore and the cohesion of the group needs a reboot.

If we are allowed we will do a socially distanced lunch in a garden in a few weeks time, when hopefully we can rebalance and entertain and be entertained by each other.

We don’t of course know whether this would have happened anyway. Age has a funny way of hitting you when you are not watching and when, in your head you’re still 30.  It’s an affront  to be labelled elderly and to have to be extra cautious about being sociable. It’s something else to realise that you (never!) and those around you may be sliding into another stage of elderlyness.

On that note I’m going to find a pair of flared trousers and a flower power shirt and dance barefoot in the garden……..

From Steph in London: Zoomed out

24 July

I’m not sure I can do many more large Zoom gatherings, so the couple I join may become victims of my irritations. It’s fine when there are only a few people because then you converse as normal. With more than 4 you are at the mercy of the few who want to hold court continuously. Whereas normally one would naturally be having side conversations at large gatherings, there is nowhere to hide in big settings. Feigning a bad connection seems a way out but the guilt of leaving people you are individually fond of takes over. Small beer in comparison to those in power but not in control……

If this is really an observation of life at present I’m appalled at the ineptitude of the government- but to what purpose other than to rant with like minded people?

Life has certainly taken on a new normal. Pressure to join groups in gardens, go out for coffee and meals and go to work on public transport are all part of the plan to pretend it’s all ok and safe….. I’m not sure about that and am struggling with an open invitation to Holland to look after the
grandchildren. They appear to be much more gung ho in The Netherlands with less social distancing, and everything open – but still loads of hand washing..Their figures are better than ours ( where in Europe isn’t!) so theoretically all will be well if we brave driving over.

Going back to Zoom and the transformation to face to face- or should it be side by side? It was a life line for some, it gave us time to adjust to solitude together and probably gave us a false sense of security about the future. We may indeed need it again if the winter is as dire as predicted, but in the meantime seeing people face to face across the garden is a joy- and I even got a birthday hug from some of the grandchildren. Bliss.

From Steph in London: A World Beating system … and absolute incompetence

June 19

Hurrah, with a world beating system the NHS and the country will be saved…

The new track and trace scheme is now up and running.  The management of it has bypassed local public health teams and it’s controlled centrally. So- from a very reliable source …. somebody gives information after testing  positive for Covid on May 31.  The team starts phoning round but can’t get any  joy so on June 10 contacts the local PHE team to take over the contact tracing ….only 10 days wasted and heaven knows how any more infections..

Fortunately, we are on top of the track and trace(!)  and are going to give Google/ Apple a try at the phone app-creating world beating systems temporarily shelved! We’ve only wasted about 3 months and millions but the boys have all the answers.

And now we move to education, where the leadership has been spectacular. Thank goodness we have Heads and staff working their socks off trying to work out how to get children back into schools realistically..

My daughter in law is a data manager for a 1600 plus secondary school. Normally at this time of year she will have done the timetable for September and head of departments will have ironed out any issues (like double A level Physics on a Friday afternoon!)

This year she has created 2 timetables – a normal two week timetable with all subjects getting their allocated time in the right rooms with the right staff and a shadow timetable that can be slotted in for all pupils…..for simplicity and to ensure all pupils get time in school, they have decided to offer Maths, English and science only on a part time basis if necessary …..It’s the Options that create problems for bubbles and social distancing.

Given the school leaving age is now 18 it may be time for the curriculum police to think about a broader offering for all students for longer.  No Options or GCSE exams at 16, (which no longer makes sense as everyone stays in education beyond that.. the end of year 11 is not a definitive time anymore) Perhaps International Baccalaureate type education?

from Steph in London: transport or teleporting?

June 15. So, the shops can open tomorrow – it will be interesting to see how successful it will be and who will venture forth.

It made me think how we will get into London when it’s time to go – public transport being off limits for the foreseeable future. We made a conscious decision to run a small car several years ago. It is great for city living, can be parked in the smallest spaces and suits us…. Or it did suit us. Faced with no trains, UK holidays and car travel to Holland to see the children do we need to think about a different option – slightly larger, more powerful and more comfortable for long journeys? It goes against our environmental philosophy to think about it but we are all being pushed onto the road again. I’m not sure how that will play out.

We moved a huge pot containing a Cornus Kousa (dogwood) up to the top of the garden today to finish off the design in that area. Having time to get the whole garden replanted and organised has been a joy and for the first time since we moved in, we feel as if the garden is now ours. All we have to do now is keep everything alive.

Relationships with lockdown and Covid appears to have changed considerably. Is it fatigue or a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to get us out of this mess? They certainly have lost the confidence of many- to the point that we no longer believe almost anything we are told. How could it have been handled better and why on earth wasn’t it?

 Answers on a postcard …

from Steph in London: If you’re not bothered about uplift …

June 4. Shiny graphs galore and an inbuilt belief that, if they look good, they will be telling the truth and, even more importantly, will be proving we are not the worst country in Europe and nearly the worst country in the world for the virus … David Blunkett when Minister of Education once said, “Learn to measure what you value not value what you measure”. It might help!

Shutting the borders so that those countries with a worse record than ours don’t send people over to contaminate us … I am sure that the fact that we are (almost) the worst country in the world will mean that anybody with any sense will keep a wide berth of the UK for ages.

In the meantime we wait and watch to see what happens with the freedom that has been given to us … there are definitely more cars around. Five of the grandchildren are back in school 3 days a week, one is having a full day of lessons on line much to her horror and the others are getting very much  better at table tennis and baking cakes. The six-year olds spend the day in ‘bubbles’ of 15 with 2 teachers. They do everything together and are separated from everybody else at break and lunch time. Then when they are dismissed at 3-ish they all pile into the playground, throw themselves at their friends from other bubbles then go home.

 My eldest son is planning to be working at home until December with the younger members of the team going into the office on a fortnightly rota. The logic of that is that the “youngsters” may not have the space at home to work there long term and the oldies (those over 35!) who can work in a separate room will do so, and just visit the office once a week for the odd meeting.

Life has become strangely more agitated for us all. Do we go out? With gloves, a mask, nothing? We’ve bought disposable cups for friends so we can serve coffee (in gloves) and safely. Are we being totally neurotic and is the R number in London only .4? It was strangely calmer when the world had stopped … but it is the summer and if it had gone on into the winter there would have been many (more) stir crazy households.

So, the conversation about uplift was a joy – two very jolly over 80s discussing comfortable underwear.

The rest is censored …

from Steph in London: turning point week

May 31. Capacity over strategy, instinct over compliance, self righteousness and the divine right of kings over competence … all in all a turning point week. Tempers are strained and it’s not the lockdown that is causing the frustration. It’s as if dear Boris and his henchmen are bored now- we are distinguished in having almost the worst figures in the world, nothing is working smoothly, the R number remains steady at too high and now a few more deaths won’t really matter … 10 weeks of grasping at straws, over promising and under delivering tests even the most loyal in society.

Essentially nothing has changed but we are being released albeit slowly (but are the over 70s?)

So now we have to think about meeting the world again – well, up to 6 of them at least. From being a extrovert who loves being with people I feel anxious about being with anybody other than my nearest and dearest, even in the garden. So, Book Club could meet in a garden, as could our Ladies who Lunch group – do I want to? No thank you, not yet.

Happy birthday to my middle son, who turns 45 today. He lives in the Netherlands and heaven knows when I can next give him and the grandchildren a hug – and a present!

from Steph in London: education …

When I agreed to write a blog, I swore I wouldn’t make any political comments … after over two months of lockdown I am about to fall off the wagon … why does education have to be politically governed? Or rather why does it have to be politically governed by people whose only interaction with schools was decades ago when they went. If we were an authoritarian state into indoctrination, perhaps interference is needed but I have yet to see a politician whose raison d’etre was actually the good of the young instead of their own career.

Why have we not got a decent education minister? In fact, the last decent one was in the 90’s. She actually understood education – such a novelty.

So, our esteemed MOE wants children taught in a bubble up to 15 pupils all day … I wonder how any schools have classrooms big enough for social distancing. A local school with 1,400 pupils only has classrooms large enough for 8 socially distanced. The mathematicians amongst you can work out how many rooms and how many teachers will be needed.

Then compute the options for the older pupils – 240 pupils per year. Pupils choose up to 12 subjects, practical subjects including the sciences needing more space and staff … bubbles might work for the core subjects but all the other subjects would place pupils and teachers in so many different groupings.

Rotas seem a good idea – different year groups in at different times … but no! He doesn’t want schools to run rotas as happens in Holland and other European countries.

The Heads I know are really trying to work something out- not least a timetable for the next academic year.

Rant over- back to the garden …