Week Two, Day Two - It could be so much worse ...

It struck me over the weekend that, however difficult we might think things are for us at the moment, they could be so much worse.

After all, no matter how inconvenient it is for us all to be stuck largely at home, trying to juggle work and childcare, running the gauntlet of supermarket shopping and generally wondering how we are going to keep ourselves sane while staying indoors with the kids for the next however many weeks, at least we are ‘at home’.

I mean how hard can it really be to be isolated inside a nice, comfortable house with all the mod cons and good internet access?

Yesterday, I watched on the news what is happening in India. Because of the lockdown, thousands and thousands of people are trying to escape the cities to go back to their villages. People who are living in overcrowded ghettos –  a breeding ground for any virus – now with no income, who just want to go home to be isolated in a safer, saner environment. People willing to walk for miles in order to get there.

WATCH HERE

And it’s not just in India that there is a problem. What about here? What about the homeless in our towns and cities? How do you stay safe at home when you don’t have a home to call your own? Crisis, the national charity for the homeless, have been highlighting the plight of Britain’s homeless during this time – as if it’s not difficult enough to be homeless at the best of times without having to contend with COVID-19 as well.

Like me, I am sure some of you remember the song ‘Streets of London’ by Ralph McTell, which was released in 1969. I have vivid recollections of singing it as a young child in my junior school choir in the late 1970s. It always made me cry. On Saturday I found this link to the Crisis Facebook post showing the Crisis choir with Ralph McTell and Annie Lennox singing that very song:

WATCH HERE

They then highlighted a story on the BBC website. Ralph McTell has always refused to write another verse for the song. For 50 years he has always said there was no reason to add anything to it ... until now. In light of the challenges facing our homeless he has decided to write another verse and, if you follow the link below, you can hear him singing it:

WATCH HERE

So, how does all of this make me feel? Well it makes me feel blessed for what I have and more than a little bit ashamed for feeling sorry for myself ... who am I to complain about my plight at the moment when all around me so many people are so much worse off than I am? I am safe, my family is safe, our safety is in my hands. If I do the things that I should then they will remain that way. What is the worst thing that can happen? Boredom? Irritation? Frustration? Well, I think I can probably survive that!

Oh, and two other things:

1 - ‘Streets of London’ still makes me cry.

2 - Thank goodness the cricket tour didn’t go ahead.

Stay safe, stay strong and remember, it could be a whole lot worse ...

Week Two, Day One - Who are you missing?

I mentioned on Friday that today is my cousin’s birthday. Despite it being the big 5-0, I wouldn’t normally get to see her as she is at the other end of the country. I would, however, at least be able to send her a present, some flowers or a bottle of bubbly to make sure she knew I was thinking of her on her special day. It feels strange not to be able to do any of those things as normal.

This has made me think a lot about all the people I cannot see. My friends, my colleagues, the pupils at school and all of you. You suddenly realise how much those seemingly casual moments of human interaction actually mean to you. But the people I miss the most at the moment are my Mum and Dad. I am sure, like a lot of you, it’s been a number of weeks since I saw my parents, with no prospect of doing so any time soon.

I’m lucky - at least I know they are behaving themselves and staying at home, which is not true for everyone. I have friends whose elderly relatives are taking a more ‘gung-ho’ approach to life, which gives their nearest and dearest all the more to worry about.

But my parents were both frontline NHS workers during the 1957-58 Asian Flu and 1968-69 Hong Kong Flu pandemics, when there were so many patients in the wards that every bed was full and the space between every bed had a mattress on the floor with another patient on it. There is no way they would do anything which would risk increasing the burden on those people now doing the jobs they once did.

When I ask them how they got through it - were they not worried, did they never want to walk away from the risk - the response is always the same: we just got on with it, there was no time to worry as we were too busy and you don’t get to choose who you care for. I guess it just goes to show that every generation has amazing, selfless people, which is just as well for the rest of us.

Last week I was sent a video clip from one of our sister schools in Canterbury, Kent College, which I thought you would like to see. This clip shows the grandmother of one of the students at the school playing the accordion from the balcony of her care home while the other residents sit in the gardens singing along. What you can’t see from the video clip is that her granddaughter is on the other side of the fence, playing the violin but keeping her distance. I have often said the MIST schools are more similar than they are different and this clip made me chuckle as I could see exactly the same thing playing out in Taunton and not Canterbury!

CLICK HERE

On the subject of what lengths you would go to in order to protect your nearest and dearest, I was amused by this news article I found over the weekend. Some of you may well have seen it, but in case you haven’t I have included it here:

CLICK HERE

This dad is camping out in a field down the road from his family, in isolation, as he wants to not only protect his young daughter from the risks of COVID-19 infection but also to protect her from the anxiety caused by knowing he is at home but not being able to go close to him. Reading it made me wonder what lengths we would all go to in order to protect those we love from harm or distress.

I suppose this is the most difficult aspect of a situation like this. We all know that if a visible assailant was to try and attack our mother, our father, our sister, or our brother, our husband, our wife, our son or our daughter, we would all step in and try to stop them or hold them back. It might not work but we would do it anyway. But this threat is invisible. It sneaks up on us when we shake a hand, exchange pleasantries and, for us as warm, welcoming and compassionate people, offer a little human kindness. We never know if we have brought a hidden enemy with us into our homes and we can’t fight it, we can only hide from it.

The hiding from it requires us to put distance between ourselves and the people we love just when they need us the most. It’s counter-intuitive to human nature and goes against absolutely everything we do in our lives to create a nurturing and caring home and to develop caring and compassionate young people; yet it is, at present, the only weapon we have in this battle. Who would have thought there would ever have been an advantage to being rude and unsociable!!

So, good luck with the social distancing and remember we are stronger together, even if that has now become a virtual togetherness!

Day five - Feeling slightly blue ...

So, today I’m feeling slightly blue. Why, you might ask? After all, the week seems to have gone relatively smoothly and, despite the difficulties, at least the sun is shining. Well, my answer is simple. It should have been House Matches tomorrow!

That might seem a rather strange reason to feel a little sad to some of you but, for those of you who managed to get to our inaugural House Match Competition in the Autumn Term, you will know why I feel the way I do.

I was looking forward this weekend to watching the matches. I was anticipating the way in which pupils of all ages supported each other within the Houses just like they did last term. To seeing celebrations and commiserations. I was looking forward to the patchwork of colours - red, blue, green and purple - painted across faces and worn on T-shirts and hooded tops. I was looking forward to welcoming you all, hopefully even more than in the autumn, to join us in an afternoon of sport, cups of tea and burgers by the Astro. But, alas, it was not meant to be ... just another thing to add to the growing list of ‘something to look forward to next year’.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how suddenly something happens that reminds you of what you are missing, like House Matches tomorrow for me, or the fact that it is my cousin’s 50th birthday on Monday and I’ve no chance of celebrating it with her. I know you will all have your own things which have been ‘interrupted’ by the current state of affairs. Things you would normally be doing but which have not been able to happen, things you were looking forward to which have had to be cancelled or big family events and milestones which will go uncelebrated ... at least for the time being.

On the note of milestones, I would like at this stage to send a particular message to all our Year 6, Year 11 and Year 13 students and their parents. For all of you, some of the most important ‘rites of passage’ are not going to happen in the way they were planned or in the way they usually are.

I know this, and I know how difficult this is for you all. For you, it is not just a Speech Day or a disco, a prom or a ball, it is a part of a really important journey. One some of you have been travelling for the past 15 years or more.

This was placed in stark relief for me last Friday when I went into the Sixth Form Centre and found a group of Year 13 students sitting around talking. One of them, Max, was sitting in the most wonderfully colourful velvet evening jacket and bow tie. When I asked him why, he replied: “This is The Ball for me, as it won’t be happening in the summer.” The day before, I saw our Head Boy, Nikolai, looking glum. He is the first international student to hold the position and COVID-19 has robbed him of the most important day of the year for him as Head Boy - Speech Day.

So, I want to make a pledge, here and now, to every Year 6, Year 11 and Year 13 student at Queen’s and their parents. You are not going to become ‘The Forgotten Year’. The year with no Speech Day, the year with no Prom or no Ball. Nikolai and Sophia are not going to get away without a speech and our captains of the sports teams are not going to get away without Final Assembly. And I am going to see Max in that resplendent jacket at a celebration to mark the end of his time at Queen’s and his passage to the next stage of life.

I do not know where it will happen, when it will happen or how it will happen, but I promise you now ... it will happen.

So, tomorrow afternoon, when we should all be together celebrating the very best of Queen’s, I would ask you instead, along with your children, to don something in the colour of your children’s Houses, whether they be French, Barnicott, Ray or Woolmer, Mendips, Quantocks, Brendon or Blackdown, and play some sport. Hopefully we might be able to find ourselves some new Queen’s Sports.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend and will be back at my blog on Monday ...

Day four - A day to be hopeful

So, today is a day to be hopeful. Why? Well mainly because I’m tired of being anything else! While at the start of the week I was concerned about human nature, worried that this was going to bring out the worst in people, my experiences over the past few days have been somewhat different. 

I know there will always be people who behave poorly in any given situation and I guess there is not much any of us can do about that, but what has become really clear is that this is not the reality of the Queen’s community.

It has been lovely to receive emails from so many of you sharing your experiences with me in response to my blog. Thank you everyone who has been in touch with ideas for how to keep Jamie occupied (we have already tried a good number of them!) and to let me know how you and your children are managing. It is lovely to know, in this time of challenge, that our community is as strong as ever.

So why do I feel so hopeful today? Well it’s all down to you really … 

You, our wonderful pupils who I can see are getting on with life and making the most of it, no matter how different it might seem to be at the moment.  

You, our fantastic staff who are working tirelessly day in, day out setting work, providing feedback and keeping in contact with the young people in your care through email or telephone conversations. 

You, our brilliantly supportive parents who are juggling all things to make sure you are able to keep life as normal as possible, yet still finding time to offer a word of encouragement to us here at school whenever you are able to. Thank you to you all. 

It seems appropriate to make a special mention to those of you who are working on the front line as key workers. I know many of you are making use of the Key Worker provision we have set up and I hope it provides some comfort to you to know we are looking after your children while you are looking after us.  

I am sure I speak for everyone in the Queen’s family when I say we are blessed to count you among our number and that you will never truly know how much your efforts mean to us. You remain in our hearts and prayers every single day and we look forward to a time in the future when we are able to express our gratitude in person. 

It has been lovely to hear some of the wonderful stories coming out of the Key Worker area. The fact that children of all ages are together in one space means Year 8 pupils have been welcoming, helping and supporting children in Pre-Prep, which shows just how much of a community effort this really is. Yesterday, Mr Wilde told me he had seen Mr Monks playing ‘hide and seek’ with a little girl from Nursery and her brother in Year 1. That is an entirely positive image of life, post COVID-19, which gives me reason to be hopeful.

Thank you to all the Queen’s staff who have volunteered to help with the staffing of these key areas. We really appreciate all the support you are giving to provide a haven for children who we know must be concerned for their parents on the front line.

It is in moments like these that it becomes apparent what a very special community we have here at Queen’s; because it is so special, I knew you would want to know what else we are doing as a school to help in the national effort at this time.  

Our car parks are already being used by Musgrove Park Hospital to ensure all their important staff can get into work, as well as exploring ways in which our boarding accommodation could be used by the NHS as this crisis develops. I will keep you posted on the progress we make with all our community action

So, all in all, I think it is a day to be hopeful. Thank you to the whole community for giving me something to feel positive about, even during this difficult time.

Day three - Juggling life ...

So, it’s day three and I am busy trying to juggle all aspects of life ...

I guess most of you are like me, trying to manage the day job at the same time as that all-consuming thing called family life. Not only am I trying to do all the things I would normally do, but I am also now having to do all the exceptional additional things which have suddenly arisen because of the uncertainty of COVID-19, and I have to do all this while trying to keep an eye on my son who is now learning from home. Sound familiar?

Over the years I have often been to education conferences where I have been shown technology which would, if the suppliers were to be believed, make traditional schooling a thing of the past. In the future, apparently, there will no longer be the need for a physical place that is a school. Children will be able to learn anywhere and teachers will be able to provide the educational support remotely. I have always considered this to be utter nonsense … anyone who believes this to be the case has clearly never spent any time with your average 12-year-old!

So, today on day three, I feel absolutely vindicated in this view. I thought there might be a ‘honeymoon period’ around working from home while your child was completing their own schooling around you. You know, some sort of idyllic utopia with us all sitting around the dining table in quiet harmony while everyone gets on with their own work. But, no, it’s not like that at all – well, not for our family anyway!

It might be that you are all doing a much better job of this than we are and that you are able to successfully get on with all your own work without being constantly interrupted by a poor confused child needing some help. If so, then that is wonderful … but do you have any tips for us because we must be doing something wrong!

However, on the off-chance that my experiences are the norm and not the exception, we will be sending out a very quick questionnaire over the next few days to find out how the remote learning is going. This survey will allow us to get a quick snapshot of what is working and what isn’t. Is the work we are setting accessible? Is there enough of it? Or, is there too much? That way we can take on board your feedback and try to make changes so that your children feel more secure and more confident about the work we are asking them to do away from us so you can all get on with the day job.

On the subject of children feeling secure, yesterday I was sent this quote written by the American TV personality Fred Rogers, which was found in an online post recently: "At many times throughout their lives, children will feel the world has turned topsy-turvy. It's not the ever-present smile that will help them feel secure. It's knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people they love to be with them until the world turns right side up again.”

I was also sent the single response which had been made by a parent underneath it: "Thank you so much for sharing this. I really needed it. My son is struggling with the changes but he's seven and doesn't understand why he feels so frustrated and unsettled. Last night he said: 'It just feels like my brain is over here (while pointing to his knee) and it feels like all my thoughts are all at once and I want them to be one at a time’.”

I think we all feel a little like that at the moment - that we wished that our thoughts would come one at a time and not all at once. So it’s our job here at Queen’s to try and help you get your thoughts coming one at a time and help your children feel their brain isn’t in their knee. We can do that by making what we are doing at this time as good as possible so at least you have one less thing to worry about.

And, just for the record, secretly it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to know that I am, and always have been, right about technology. That, while it is good to be able to use it to our advantage at this time to keep us all safe, there will always be a place for actual schools with buildings and people all together in one place. 

The fact that this is our new reality is not something we would choose, it is instead something we will do as well as we can, for as long as we have to, until we are in the position to open up our doors again to provide you and your children once more with their safe haven - you, so that you can get on with making your place in the world and them, so that they work out where theirs is going to be.

Take care, keep safe and remember we are ‘stronger together’.

Day two - A day of contradictions

Today has been a day of contradictions. If you look at any set of statistics about COVID-19 you would think that it was only something which affected the old and the frail. You might even think that you would be ‘safe’ if you are young or even middle-aged. You might think that if you contract the virus your illness would only be mild, so mild in fact that you wouldn’t even notice it. Equally, if you look at the news you might imagine that every older person in the country must be in fear for their lives and worrying about their own health and welfare at every step.

So, why has today been a day of contradictions for me? Well, today I received notification that one member of my family was in the highest risk bracket for complications arising from COVID-19. Was it my nearly 80-year-old parents? No. Was it my aunt or uncle, both close to 80 with underlying health conditions? No. Was it even my almost 50-year old husband (don’t tell him you know!)? No.

No, it was my 15-year old son. Now, I know, as do those of you who have come across James, that he is a complicated soul, who has had more than his fair share of health issues over his short life. However, I never really considered that he would be at that level of risk this time around because I’d convinced myself that, even with his complications, he was ‘too young’ for it to be a problem.

At the same time, I came across a series of photographs of some pensioners in a nursing home in Yorkshire. Each resident was holding a mini whiteboard while propped up against pillows in bed. The one which particularly caught my eye was held by a fragile looking elderly lady. The whiteboard she held, while smiling at the camera, said: “Violet says that, while the world is going mad, we hope it doesn’t last forever. Sending love to those who need it. There’s more worse off than us”.

So, what does all this tell me? Well, not much really, other than no-one is immune from this and everyone can think more about others than they do about themselves. It seems to me that if everyone in the world approached this time with those two pillars then we would all be the better for it.

I have therefore come up with two new rules to help myself get through the next few months:

Rule 1 - No-one is invincible.

Rule 2 - Always think about someone else more than yourself.

If any of you feel like sharing in my new found mantra then please feel free to do so.

Oh, and by the way, if any of you have any tips for how to keep a 15-year-old autistic teenager entertained for 12 weeks stuck at home then I am open to suggestions. After all, there is only so much Minecraft any mother can take ...

Day one - Quiet at Queen’s

We are coming to the end of our first day at Queen’s without our normal compliment of staff and pupils. While I know that everyone is busy setting and completing work online, school itself is unnervingly quiet. This is a very strange day.

It strikes me that all over the country people are no longer doing what they usually do, or at least they shouldn’t be! Offices are closed, cafés are empty, streets are quiet … the world is on hold while we all do our bit to fight an invisible threat.  

I know so many of you are doing more than just a bit to help in this fight. This morning I saw Queen’s parents dropping off their children with us to our Key Worker provision on their way to work on the front line at Musgrove Park Hospital. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of them and the many other people around the country who are putting their own welfare on the line for us all. I can only hope they know how much we appreciate everything that they are doing.

In the spirit of the rest of us doing our bit, I wanted to share with all of you a link to an interview from LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) a London-based national phone-in and talk radio station. The content is sobering, so please brace yourselves, but it clearly demonstrates the role we all must take in order to contribute positively to the fight against COVID-19. CLICK HERE

Finally, last week I was sent a poem written in response to what is happening in Italy. At the time it was shared I couldn’t imagine ever being in the position where I needed to use it, but a week is a very long time in the new world of COVID-19 and today it seems particularly relevant.

Tonight before falling asleep

think about when we will return to the street.

When we hug again,

when all the shopping together will seem like a party.

Let's think about when the coffees will return, the small talk, the photos close to each other.

We think about when it will be all a memory but 

normalcy will seem an unexpected and beautiful gift.

We will love everything that has so far seemed futile to us.

Every second will be precious.

Swims in the sea, the sun until late, sunset, toasts, laughter.

We will go back to laughing together.

Strength and courage.

 

The Methodist Schools have a tagline which is “stronger together”; as a community I believe this is true.  

So, stay well, stay safe and know that we are “stronger together”.

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School Office: +44 (0)1823 272559

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© 2016 - 2020 QUEEN’S COLLEGE, TRULL ROAD, TAUNTON, SOMERSET TA1 4QS

Methodist Independent Schools Trust

Registered Office: Methodist Church House. 25 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5JR

Charity No. 1142794. Company No. 7649422