Lockdown Home School – Day Five

Tossing all misanthropes and naysayers upon the scrapheap, our eldest’s school continue to ply us with daily singalongs and, increasingly, video lessons. Today’s follows the theme of the week; helpfully, the learning of the days of the week. At Micawber Towers we have replaced words with the digits 1 to 7 so the impact is minimal. We do however sign in each day; the virtual equivalent of holding one’s hand aloft to signal you haven’t been locked in the coal bunker. 

Afterwards, I google ‘child protection’ to see if enforced home schooling and lack of due diligence by parents is likely to put us on a blacklist, or have Cerberus and Medusa removed from our home. The answer is far from clear but I make a mental note not to wash the children from now on so when social services do drop by they’ll be sure to deposit them in the orphanage.  I dig out old copies of The Twits and Stig of the Dump to identify what it is that makes human beings appear particularly repulsive to strangers.

Teacher Mrs E emails to ask for an update on Cerberus’ progress over the week. I seem to be the only one in the abode who receives these emails, which I suspect is because she is aware I’m rarely sober and will provide honest feedback as the most loathed dad of her current wards. I maintain my dignity and send a response which is the email equivalent of crying outside a bar with the girlies before puking into an ornamental plant. I tell her I love her then beg she take Cerberus back. No reply. 

I consider requesting the criteria set by the local Stasi Department for key worker status from her but don’t click send. Instead I ask Mrs M if she would make this ask of her own employer, linking it to the fact she had someone telephone her last week chasing advice for how to get on the Dole. I make a mental note to check if being on Benefits increases the likelihood of getting your children whisked to the Home For Unfortunates. 

Mrs M appears to be having a good day. She cries on a telephone call but it’s far from clear whether it’s important and seems chipper afterwards. I avoid the subject. Our living room is in ruins, with stuffed toys propped on every available surface like the jury, public and witnesses at Old Bailey Court No1, with us centrally located in the dock. I decide there and then to ban all cuddly animals from the house, reflecting sadly that without Priti Patel, Derbyshire Police or the Tartan Stasi to back me up it is unenforceable. 

I message a friend with teenagers for reassurance on home schooling, who makes clear they’ve exchanged the proscribed curriculum for six months of film studies. I question why I didn’t think of this first. Opening Netflix, I search for Scarface. “Cerberus, film studies part one”, I roar. “Mrs E wants you to watch movies!”.

I line up Scent Of A Woman to immediately follow. 

A client has unhelpfully sent me three dozen emails on a single issue. My sweat feels hot. That seems unusual, and I’ve a pain in my side which the medical dictionary suggests might be kidney failure. 

Conscious that I’d rather keel over in public than squirrelled away in the study where no one may look for me, I toddle to the village shop to engage in some gossiping. I arrive as they receive the tinned foods delivery and find myself filling their shelves.

Somebody in the village is bedded with ‘THE CORONA’ and the conversation with shop sweetheart (Patsy, 73) centres upon this ugly news.  We conclude we’ve both more than likely had Covid-19; in fact are February 2020 vintage, but nevertheless hope the local invalid doesn’t step foot over the threshold thus creating a superspreader scandal, nuking their business.

I roll over in my mind Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery and set a reminder to check later by what means the locals kill the ticket holder. If memory serves me correctly, they stoned her to death in the village square.

I’d bet my village chums would love the chance to come together over mulled ale, sweetmeats, and get rid of the virus once and for all. 

Lockdown Home School – Day Four

After yesterday’s pathetic attempt at educating Cerberus I wake up without even the vaguest intent to try. I receive an email from teacher Mrs E about a maths competition which I ignore. Instead, I pat myself on the back for having spent most of the previous day grinding on with the day job, whilst Mrs M fled with the midget psychopaths to meet friends. In our country of curtain twitchers every visit to a dismal playpark while hailstones crack our skulls feels as I imagine jumping bail might.

We clock in as usual via the virtual classroom, but I don’t open the timetable. Knowing there is an all-class storytelling session mid-morning which unhelpfully coincides with a work team call, I leave Mrs M to forge ahead. From another room I hear Mrs E repeating a story which I must have read the boy 150 times and loathe without parallel. 

Unfortunately both Cerberus and Medusa do not wish to engage in harmonious conduct. My work call is ten minutes in when I detect the hideous sound of grinding metal from out of doors. On exploration I discover the boy pulling a cast iron drainpipe from the side of the house. About to deliver a sound bollocking I am stayed by the sight of our pet rabbit, a regrettable lockdown one acquisition, peeking over the edge of a plastic bucket instead of from behind his usual chicken wire. On investigation it seems Cerberus either provided swimming lessons or tried to drown it. I forget the bollocking. Seems little point.

Work call is again interrupted; this time by screaming. Medusa has been bitten by the bunny. Cue blood and tears. I give the rabbit a wink. Despite his vacuous expression he clearly comprehends the bitter pill of lockdown. I don’t tell him his predecessor lasted only four days. 

Mrs M seems to be having a bad day. The first indication is when she appears at the study door brandishing her laptop and a glower that would make Boadicea wet the bed. I concentrate even harder on my notepad, my nose touching the paper. I get no reprieve. Turns out she and a colleague have had a bitter exchange. I get the same story in varying forms for the next 11 hours, with increased outrage as the day goes on. I advise her to try and avoid being sacked. This acts as throwing tabasco in a stranger’s eye might. I wonder if she is going to punch me.

It does however precipitate me to leave the house with the boy. Whilst he spends large chunks of each miserable day indoors punching my testicles and cursing like a Greek, outwith Micawber Towers he often walks in a vegetative silence, not unlike the care home residents he corresponded with earlier in the week.

Before we turn the corner I spot a lumbering hunchbacked villager named John standing in the middle of the road with his own son. I assume he is waiting for a passing tractor to put them both out of their misery. I join them, Cerberus in tow.

Lockdown Home School – Day Three

Bright eyed and bushy tailed. I slept well and managed to rattle through work late last night. Feel on top of things. 

Boiled eggs for the two schizophrenics this morning, but they only peck at them. I laid out Cerberus’ clothing this morning on his bed and he dresses without asking. This is progress although I’d bet he has his underpants on backwards, like a thong. 

I ask Mrs M about work and what she has on today. Being an American, she’s neither shy nor backward. She says work can “kiss her ass” if they expect her to do three jobs at once. Mentally I try to work out the meaning. I think she was inferring “children, you and the day job”. Best not push it. There’s a sinister look about her today which denotes murderous intent. 

We clock into class, receive a chirpy cartoon from Mrs E which barks the word ‘hello’ into their tiny heads around 75 times, and find there’s a numeracy video plus a music lesson. That’s optimistic, my mind tells me. 

Turns out I was correct. As a warm up today I rearrange part of yesterday’s lesson – writing and placing the days of the week in order – as our warm up. It’s “stupid”, and “I don’t care” feature heavily in the boy’s warm up vocal. On to the numeracy lesson. Half way through we come to 7+2 and he answers 8. I breathe deeply, envisioning myself as Buddha as I try to correct. I suggest we use fingers to count. The total still comes to 8. Making the mistake of advising that Mrs E is watching our every move he tosses his pencil across the room, leaps of the chair and is gone. It is 10am. I don’t even bother to check what the afternoon lesson was for today. School is out.

Lockdown Home School – Day Two

Chipper from our first day of home schooling, I skip out of bed with the rooks (larks are in short supply here), dress and light the fire. By the time I’ve prepared a nourishing repast of scrambled eggs and toast, Cerberus has told me to “fuck off” and Medusa has mastered “I hate you daddy”. This doesn’t look promising. I thought they had left this behaviour in the Christmas holidays, assuming it was a jocular festive phase, the season of ill-will and hilarious japes with doting family members. 

It gets worse. My parents video call as we start the day’s lesson, just as I am wondering why ‘ay ee aye oh you’ have to be pronounced ‘ah eh ih aw uh’ as if we were simpletons. I distinctly remember my first teacher rapping a giant rod upon capital and lower case vowels written on orange paper on the wall until we pronounced them in Her Majesty’s English. I presume this is progress but uncertainty creeps in.

The video call does not go well. My own mother, having been keen on garden parties when lockdown one happened, lives now in mortal fear of going to the supermarket. 

“Morning !, how are you today Cerberus?”

“Granny!, I have a spiderman, spiderman, spiderman..have you seen my lion?”

“Lovely, wish I had one. Where’s your dad?”

“Here mum. We’re just doing school work, are you both well?”

“Yes, yes, of course. Why are you doing schooling, you shouldn’t bother. When you had measles and whooping cough we didn’t have to teach you anything, and look at you now. By the way, did you see that story about that man who died from coronavirus, so sad. Did you know him?” 

‘Stay calm’ I tell myself. I don’t. Rather, I opt for the inflammatory “Didn’t my granny look after me when I was sick? We have to work as well as look after the children, you know.” It ends like the final whistle of a football match in Flanders’ fields.

Mother messages me a link to the story and I resist the urge to mention the chap was gargantuan. Her advice on home schooling is not lost on Cerberus. He leaves the room.  I cut off the call to go and look for him. Medusa has drawn in wax crayon on the living room wall. I hear Mrs M shouting at the boy to stop standing on the kitchen worktop. She calls him an asshole. I hear a glass smash.  I turn about swiftly, shut the door as quietly as I can and go to the shed where I sit shivering in the cold and light a cigarette. I have another two before I venture back inside. 

Bustling in with faked enthusiasm I call Cerberus and seat him at a desk. He picks up an eraser, bites a piece of it then spits it out.  Best to ignore. I bring up the class timetable to the screen. Phonics part two then a number warm up exercise. The phonics exercise is parked. I tell myself we’ll finish it later (we don’t). I run back to the shed, smoke another cigarette and tie a piece of string to a stone to make a pendulum for one of the number warm-ups. Back inside I drag Cerberus to the study and ask him to count the swings of the pendulum “one, two, three..” which he does. I make the mistake of suggesting we do “five, ten, fifteen..”. He downs tools and leaves, with a departing “fuck’s sake daddy”. Half an hour later there’s a live storytelling with Mrs E. The second the story finishes, the boy jumps off the chair and disappears. Mrs E says bye to the classmates who’ve remained, telling the children to get their parents on for a quick Q&A. I pause, trying to think of a question. Then click leave. Can’t face it.

I send a message to the parents group chat with a laughing emoji bemoaning today’s abortive home schooling. No-one replies. I suspect they didn’t like it when I likened Nicola Sturgeon to Kathy Bates’ character in Misery. On the bright side lockdown will probably mean I don’t see anyone in person before Easter.

I knuckle down for actual work but my enthusiasm is watery. The children are inciting a mini-riot; Mrs M has been dragged in and the day has been taken on an ugly hue. It is 11am.  

A woodpecker crawls up a tree outside my window, smashing its face against the trunk. I am minded to do the same. 

For the remainder of the day I am in a stupefied state of exhaustion and I wonder if my work will be ill judged and get me sacked. Lets hope not. Mrs M takes the children to a nearby village playpark in the afternoon. ‘Can you be fined for that?’ I think to myself. Better not tell her otherwise I’ll end up with them.  I also get a bill from our nursery and realise we idiotically committed to pay 50% of fees during lockdown. I send an email to them outlining our regret and ask we pay nothing, as we are receiving nothing. No reply. 

Cerberus and Medusa refuse a walk with me after the playpark; instead dismantling all chairs and sofas in the living room, laying them out as beds covering the entire floor. It looks like a Leith drug den. 

I cook dinner, neck half a bottle of red, and imagine the benefits if I were to be hospitalised. No work, no schooling, no minors incessantly screaming.  Only a mild illness, bad enough that I’d need to be in for a couple of weeks but which wouldn’t prevent me from reading books or doing the crossword and writing letters to people. I start to wonder if you are allowed paperbacks in hospital with coronavirus restrictions. God, that would be a major fuck up if not. 

Cerberus insists on staying up until 10pm. No coercion, convincing, forcefully or delicately can get him down. If I had a brick to hand I’d knock myself out with it.

I remember we are expecting our third child before long and break into a cold sweat. 

I see a story in the news about a young woman who has died from coronavirus; a tragic, miserable, tale. Nowhere in the article does it mention she is morbidly obese. I send the link to my mother. No reply. 

Lockdown Home School – Day One

Mrs M selects the kitchen pew with laptop whilst our youngest, Medusa, plays with her dolls on the living room table, cartoons prattling incessantly in the background. A pleasant surprise awaits on opening my inbox when I discover her elder brother, Cerberus, has a full daily schedule for the week provided by primary school. This looks promising. He also has to sign in each day with teacher Mrs E; presumably to assure the embattled educator we haven’t beat him over the head with a shovel and buried him in the back garden. The temptation remains at the forefront of my mind.

As he and I rattle through some number warm ups and phonics, I have a dawning realisation that perhaps he isn’t the same imbecile at school as he is at home. This is a success. Turns out I am a masterful teacher after all. I have found my true calling in life. I’m tempted to engage in chest pumping. 

Not only do we succeed in ploughing through lessons over three hours, we manage to knock off a set exercise to write to the poor infirmities in a local care home wishing them a staving off of their imminent death, and Cerberus composes a letter to his idol Mr. Bean in which he replaces all letters c with a k. I say nothing. We conclude the day by sauntering to the post box to send off our missives. 

Mrs M has managed to screech through her weekend emails, Medusa has provided minimal interference, and I can finally focus on my own work. Christ, where to start. 

Determined to prove that we aren’t the most hopeless parents in our village, the school curriculum wants us to carry on with math practice on a ‘woodland walk’ so I plough forth with Cerberus in tow just before dark. Our climate has been on the refreshing side, so by the time the sun goes down around 4pm I am dragging the boy home and can feel neither my feet or hands. If schools reopened tomorrow I could say we have made a success of it. 

Several shovelfuls of coal go on the fire as soon as I walk in the door and I opt for a gut-warming concoction of brandy and port in a tumbler. Then another two.  

So thrilled with my success in life generally am I that I head back to the study after the children bathe for a few hours more to play catch up. One has to pay the mortgage after all.