Busily reporting in at 8am with teacher Mrs E, we adopt the perspective of hitting other parents hard at the first available juncture with all the impressive learnings Cerberus has mastered and will do this week. My plan is to avoid corresponding at all for the 4.9 days remaining.
This strategy is salve for our troubled souls at Micawber Towers but limited in positive effect. We upload photographs to the class hub of his demented artistic efforts. The sketched faces have been embossed in black felt tip with murderous grins and hideous eyebrows. I question the intent and Cerberus notes they are “the men in the forest”. I shudder. This can’t come from my side. Then I remember Uncle Pete.
Our ‘class’ this morning consists of telling the time using a traditional clock-face. Video lessons come from various teachers we have never met. Mrs O’ Clock has the deft skill of a betented gypsy in holding Cerberus’ attention, yet I can’t hear a word she says. It is as if she is speaking from the bottom of a well; meekly twirping twenty feet below. Nevertheless, Cerberus is rapt and masters the clock without dropping a single f***. This lasts until I invite him to work on ‘half past’ and ‘quarter to’, instantly ending his ambition and fuelling an exploration of words which rhyme with ‘punt’.
I reflect on these mysterious educators we’ve never met, and despondently recall that since school resumed last autumn we couldn’t meet them at the school gates anyway. Marooned in Scotland, the combination of mouldy vegetables in Edinburgh and panic-stricken plops in Whitehall have engendered quite the community spirit. School gates feature a dispirited gang of cynical non-maskers facing off against the silent hordes with the Tartan Stasi leader’s face tattooed on their bums. I haven’t seen everyone’s bottom yet but assume this is a form of passport to a better, fairer, Scotland. Either way, our martial law meaning we aren’t allowed to commune with any teacher face to face has left life feeling unreal.
I make several work calls and my return to the living room confirms I’ve either come down with a urine infection or that Cerberus and Medusa have turned every piece of furniture upside down. It’s the latter. A year ago I might have hopped about like a badger on acid, shoving pencils up my nose, but today don’t bat an eye.
Determined to do something to break up the day, I take the two for a walk in a nearby forest. Before departure I dash to the shed for cigarettes and a box of matches, then the car for the chocolate I’d been hiding from everyone. I’ll use the chocolate as bribery, as for a dog, and chummily smoke my way through the woods whilst the minors forage.
The walk turns out to be a bleak affair. I am forced to carry Medusa the final mile home.
After teatime I’m left alone with my tormentors when Mrs M spots we are out of bread. Unfortunately I’ve already sunk half a bottle of red so can’t escape in the car. ‘How bad could it be?’, I ask myself. For distraction I opt to have a video call with my parents, hoping they aren’t neck deep in gin and slapping one another. Just as I hear Mrs M’s car return a wail emanates from Medusa, whom I’d mislaid, and the full horror hits me. The room begins to smell like a Mumbai slum and she has covered both her hands in something brown. “It can’t be”, I utter out loud. It can. I apologise to mother and father for such a crap end to the call.
As if the victim of a deliberate and cruel prank, Mrs M walks in the door and announces she has purchased a special treat for us. Chocolate mousse. I gag.
Later, a sinking feeling creeps in as I realise this is only the second Monday of enforced home schooling. I don’t know how we can survive this. I’m out of codeine and already the timetable is in shreds, unused and (virtually) tossed on the grate. One of the dozen emails received from Mrs E today invites us to collect the next phonics workbook. Worse still, she asks we hand in the completed two from the first fortnight of school.
Where reason fails ingenuity must step in. I head to the study, remove Cerberus’ first workbook from the drawer and practise plagiarising his letters. He has managed to complete a quarter of the first book, and tomorrow I will finish it off along with its sequel. One must make do, after all. Boris said that, right?