Lockdown Home School – Day Fourteen

Thursday’s are always bustling, hurtling days. This is largely because it’s the one with most work meetings; ensuring every other task is executed at a furious pace. This dynamism also applies to home schooling and thus I dug out several projects set for Cerberus by teacher Mrs E and unleashed him at them. Remarkably he did quite well, though this was due to my delicate selection rather than his brain functioning properly. 

I made sure all homework today was art-centred, as this is clearly where his talent lies. One need only look at his inventive use of language to detect this. In the art of teaching a minor to write fluently, there are little markers on the page showing a disembodied finger, designed to encourage the budding human to separate a word from its neighbours. 

A week ago we had not mastered the art of finger-spacing. Now we have. As if to offset this small but glorious gain, Cerberus has started writing each subsequent line over its predecessor. It reminded me of a visit to the Imperial War Museum where letters are on display from the Great War. Because pencils, papers and often fingers were in short supply, soldiers at the Front wrote a letter from top to bottom before turning the paper landscape and scribbling over the earlier updates from the mud-sloshed hellholes they found themselves in. 

Incredibly, the soldiers of 1914-18 wrote in straight lines, even as their ear drums must have been splintering from incessant shellfire, and their correspondence to sweethearts and parents was perfectly legible. Cerberus on the other hand resembles a whizz-bang in all that he does, writes, draws. This now includes his grasp of written English. To look at a page authored by he, it is clear there has been some form of detonation on the page. If what you pour onto paper is an insight into your mental state, I am calling the police. 

One exercise set for my eldest was to write a story about a domestic pet and draw the same animal repeatedly to demonstrate its alternate moods; happiness, sadness, anger and so forth. For a reason I struggle to grasp this kind of exercise is right up his insalubrious alley. Personally I wouldn’t fancy drawing the same critter over and over. I’d just do a rosy-cheeked face, perhaps a one-fingered salute and a background of no-man’s land as a thinly veiled scream for help. 

Cerberus on the other hand delved into it like a Mexican miner. Like a gift from the Heavens, I focussed on work to stave off the debt collectors for another month and he slipped into his imagination for several hours. It is at times like this I almost like him. 

Medusa has had a raw deal from lockdowns. She hasn’t had the chance to build up an army of midget friends. As a nursery-goer, and second child, she’s been largely ignored since birth. There’s a third coming to join them in the near future and it’ll be lucky if I notice them arriving. 

With each day that passes Cerberus dominates our ears, eyes and brains to capacity. I pray he’ll have the resolve to focus on a job which involves no spare time whatsoever; either an Olympian athlete, the military, or as a brain surgeon. 

That being said, there’s no chance I’d let him near me with a scalpel. I’ve seen the look in his eyes. This is the downside of having an miniature artist in the house, with a pathological incapacity to listen or bear instruction. One never knows when he might cut off your ear. Just for practice.

Lockdown Home School – Day Thirteen

There comes a day in every series; in this case never-ending lockdown, when a suffocating smog of exhaustion halts all activity. Day thirteen was that day. I can’t confirm just how often these 24 hours of mental and physical incapacity take place, but have taken it as an omen that this time it fell on the unluckiest digit combination. 

Parents mirroring our position I am certain slide into these same troughs. Atlas’ burden weighs you down, you cannot think straight, work lurks in the recesses of your brain like a Norwegian troll, and the children, sensing all of the above, opt for maximum fuckwittery. 

Cerberus and Medusa knew something was up at breakfast time when Mrs M and I were incapable of speech. I should note; most days I avoid conversing over the eggs, but do chip in when bowls of cereal are tipped over heads. 

Back in the pre-children Light Ages, although it’s near impossible to remember, I was something of a morning person. I’d skip out of bed, take my repast with a vim now alien, and occasionally go for a morning jog. The notion of such an undertaking today is horrific. For a while when Cerberus was fresh and new I maintained this habit, but it died along with my libido.

The sleepless nights caught up with me and I committed to triple my intake of wine. Put simply, I couldn’t be bothered keeping fit. I’ve referred in a previous diary entry to the attractiveness of a relaxing break in hospital; perhaps I instinctively new then that the better condition my body was in the more child-orientated responsibilities would get chucked at it. I now test my physique to alternative limits, involving chemical concoctions and periodic doses of sugar.

Back to the morning of home school day thirteen, and the two knew something was up. I could tell because they asked me questions. They never ask me questions. I’d long ago assumed they neither see or hear me. As slavering hyenas do, when you are down consider it guaranteed any offspring will sink their teeth in your buttocks.

The previous day’s policy reversal ensuring Mrs M took on the guts of schoolteaching took centre stage. I tried Cerberus with some phonics but received a ‘fuck off Daddy’ in four minutes 39 seconds. Mrs M boldly inherited and lasted a record 23 minutes in the classroom. Secretly I suspect they watched Mr. Bean videos on loop but was too afraid to ask. 

My brain might have been on autopilot for work, but somewhere beneath creativity lurked. I completed two Times crosswords. 

As the day progressed I realised that silence is a wonderful state, especially when tied to indifference. At some point in the afternoon, as I was tootling through work calls, Cerberus and Medusa piled all the furniture from the youngest’s bedroom into the middle of it. They stated clearly it was a den to hide from the monster. They meant me. 

To my eyes the wooden mountain resembled the preparation required on Guy Fawkes’ Night. My inner peace radiated and I neither queried developments nor searched for the tin of kerosene which was missing from the shed. 

In many ways, if they lit the house up with me as the crowning effigy it would at least provide entertainment for the village, and undoubtedly a column or two in the local rag.

It set my mind off running to what would be the most impactful thing we could do to drive all lockdown news from the front pages, and it dawned on me finally that not only do my children listen to my incessant gurning, but they’ve had enough of it all too.

We shall wait until dark to light the inferno for maximum impact. 

Lockdown Home School – Day Twelve

It would be fair to say home schooling has its ups and its downs. When you are flying high one is reminded the little sprout you helped create may have a future which doesn’t involve them filling cardboard boxes full of tinned beans at the end of a production line for the rest of their working life. On the other hand, when life feels bleak, and nothing can get them to focus on any given task, one is certain the best to be done is start saving for a good lawyer to keep them out of jail. Today’s lessons fitted the latter mould as snugly as that velour tracksuit you accidentally popped in the tumble dryer.

Thus far in 2021 I have been designated Official Home Educator but my performance is so woeful we’ve decided Mrs M will pick up the mantle. Cerberus and I managed a pathetic sum of 20 minutes scribbling together today. What sealed the deal for my curt dismissal was a second intervention from dear teacher Mrs E. The boy is slipping so far behind he’s had a special extra teacher appointed him, along with three of his similarly bored chums. 

I have to hand it to the school for having their finger on the ball this time around in lockdown, but the hopeless reality is we are drowning at Micawber Towers. I’ve a new found respect for the professionals who handle the nation’s future criminals each day, and now have the definitive knowledge I could never be one. 

In years past I spent many a doting hour at my late grandmother’s knee. She repeatedly asserted, with a steely glint in her eye, that ‘patience is a virtue’. I echoed this budgie-like at the time, though paid scant heed. I now realise why she chose that particular adage. Patience was never one of my strong points, though I’ve become neutralised with passing years and the acceptance that life in general is for the brave or idiotic, of which I am neither. I’ve realised there’s little point in fighting against the great human tide which at some inevitable point will toss you upside down and bash your head against the rocks.

Unfortunately Cerberus, my eldest, has inherited my knack in his early years of being as attentive to the job as a builder when a local lovely saunters by his scaffold.

In the application of schoolwork at home, this means 20 minutes straight focus on a lesson is the equivalent to him of a 17 frame snooker match. He downs his pencil, which he’s been largely using to draw pictures of some kind of demonic frog anyway, slides off the chair with a ‘mpmff’ and is gone. Whether I opt for the diplomatic encouragement or the raging ‘get the fuck back here!’ matters not.

The rest of the house would need to be filled with rabid vengeful gophers before he reentered our mock schoolroom. Even then, I suspect they might run first.

The deadest door nail in my future as educator was when Mrs E informed us she had appointed this specialist teacher. Cerberus’ reputation has slipped in the course of three weeks as rapidly as Eric Cantona’s when he kung-fu kicked the Crystal Palace bigot. 

After school I spent a weary hour or two walking in the biting cold with my first-born, trying to make sense of it all. I silently begged the heavens to ‘give me a fucking break!’.

I doubt they will. More than likely it’ll be a swift kick up the arse. I deserve it. I’m sure Cerberus will make this very clear later when I’m visiting him at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Lockdown Home School – Day Eleven

Woe betide if prior to the weekend you were feeling chipper at the prospect of schools reopening some time soon. Scotland’s lockdown news went from somewhat disharmonious to End is Nigh abysmal in one fart of a government minister.

Whether it be our nation’s tiddlers expecting to see their beloved educators, answer: no chance; summer holidays: cancelled; new virus variants outrunning the vaccine: likely; seeing the visiting overseas relatives, answer: only through barbed wire, one would be forgiven for taking a noose and chucking it over a nearby beam. 

At Micawber Towers we felt as I assume Icarus did when things got toasty in the atmosphere. Freefalling to a certain splatter. In some ways it would be a great relief.

It is perhaps remiss not to state that the weekend had its lighter moments. More than anything we’ve had a great walloping of snow, and with the addition of sub-zero temperatures this made for spectacular sledging. So fast are the snowbound fields by our village that on several occasions I’ve feared the worst. Whilst Medusa has harboured a desire to remain in the ferocious Underworld (indoors) no such inhibitions have stayed Cerberus. 

On one occasion he went splintering so fast over and beyond a nearby hill it became clear he would not return. I had a sinking feeling as I trudged over the promontory, a sense heightened when I reached the precipice and saw him lying prostrate by a fence, motionless. My worst fears raced across the grey matter. One; through my neglect Cerberus has broken his neck. Two; Mrs M is going to break mine when she finds out.

Approaching the crumpled boy, mentally constructing a speech for others to deliver at our joint funeral, I paused. At that precise moment I noticed he was sticking out his tongue and licking the fleece from his face. For townies, fleece is something which covers firstly sheep, then barbed wire fences, across the Brexit voting outposts. 

On this occasion it signified to me that he’d broken his back only, not the neck. Thank God. That would save the cost of one coffin. 

For the next downward cannonball, Cerberus directed our sledge towards an impressive jump, built by local gangs for light-headed spatulas like me, and as we cartwheeled through the air I endeavoured to catch the boy before his skull split as an egg might. Heroic though my efforts were (I caught him), I did a reverse bellyflop and thought I’d broken my own back.

Worse, a crowd of chirrupy villagers awaited us both at the top of the hill.  “Did that hurt?” asked a neighbouring satan worshipper, aged eight. “Fuck yes”, I replied.

For some reason which I cannot fathom, our positive engagement strategy with the locals has failed. I therefore returned my blurry focus back to our liquor cabinet and the desperate urge not to strangle the next human child who selects The Lion King for tonight’s viewing pleasure. 

I enjoyed the spectacle at the cinema in the early 90s; I commit I shed a tear. This past week we have watched it on 24 occasions. For the days ahead I will inform those living under my roof that this moving picture was a rehearsal for Hamlet, which we will be rehearsing forthwith. 

On mail order are rapiers and poison. If the world can’t liven up lockdown for us, we shall have to do it ourselves.

Lockdown Home School – Day Ten

Following yesterday’s great hopelessness and subsequent resurrection, the collective at Micawber Towers hit the ground running this morning. We were straight in before breakfast signing in to class, even submitting a few photographs of Cerberus’ art. I see a future for him as set designer for Tim Burton. Fancy a traditional fairytale transformed into a grotesque abhorrence, blood weeping from Snow White’s eyes? Our boy has the gift.  

In addition we suffered the weight upon our shoulders of having to attend school in person to collect more schoolwork. Boy are we going to have to do some revision. 

I have salved my conscience by creating in Cerberus an excellent dominoes player. His talent is unsurpassed and it has the added benefit of being his home school math lesson. The plan for the indeterminate yonks ahead is to develop these skills further; creating a midget expert at poker and darts. By summer he’ll be necking seven pints, masticating pork scratchings’ and smoking fags with me in the shed. After that I expect him to fix the car. He is five years old. I have muttered often to him the plot of Danny, Champion of the World and if he thinks it was without intent then we shall have a slalom learning curve on our oily little paws. 

A great disservice was inflicted this week when Mrs M went banzai at the sight of two disobedient nitwits having climbed into the kitchen cupboards and share a pack of biscuits between them. I felt their pain and refer to yesterday’s diary entry for a philosophical insight into this subject area. Nonetheless, Mrs M filled a black bag with all sugar related snacks from our pantry, which was deposited swiftly in the wheelie. Cerberus, Medusa and I performed our well-seasoned watery eyes routine but to no avail.  They are now officially banned. The snacks, that is.

This has left me frequently in the position of hiding in the car eating chocolate and guzzling Lucozade.

I am never surprised when studies show men die before women. Of course they do. As I watch Mrs M indoors, undertaking complex yoga postures whilst I perch at the roadside, munching a Cadbury’s Caramel, remind myself to look up the sexy bunny in the old TV adverts, then sloop to the shed to smoke five cigarettes and drink the coffee from yesterday that the rat probably peed in; of course we do.

You may say I sound rather selfish. I’d agree. I only ask that you make a splash at empathy for my sake. When I’m in the house, the equivalent of a hug for Mrs M is a punch in the nuts for me. It’s almost as if Cerberus and Medusa have been watching the old school video I got at Churchfield Primary and identify me with the sweaty sinner who starred. The dialogue went something like this:

“Hello little children. Don’t mind me, I’m just an oddly dressed old man at the school gates. I have lots of puppies in my car. Pop along and I’ll show them to you.”   

“OK, kind Mister, lead the way!”

At this point in the narrative the man either boinks them over the head with a cosh or unstaples his Mackintosh for us to discover he is only wearing a vest. Regardless, it had a profound effect. I’ve hated dogs ever since. 

Lockdown Home School – Day Nine

We entered the Abyss Of Shame today. As a result of not checking in this morning and our strategy of only posting one picture per week on the class hub, Cerberus’ teacher staged an intervention. There has to be one set of parents worse than you and I can tell you we are they. 

So caught up with managing our own lives and trying not to cry 24 hours a day, we dismissed education entirely from our minds and it sped up behind us like a fermenting chihuahua and bit our bottoms. 

Teacher Mrs E emailed out of the blue and asked a) if everything was OK and b) if we could have a ‘chat’?  My heart sunk, the same feeling I used to get as a child when I saw my father dip his hand into the biscuit tin when I and only I knew I had eaten every Wagon Wheel and was feeling rather sick. I’d feel even more queasy when he leapt out of his slippers witnessing the desolate sight before him.

Grasping the bull by the gonads, I spoke with Mrs E and explained as best I could that we are wildly selfish parents who have placed greater station on our getting paid than educating Cerberus. Frankly, I noted, it’s not worth the bleedin’ hassle. When does the rotter ever thank us? Never.

I admit I exaggerate. I grovelled. Unabashedly. Explaining that we’ve bugger all childcare support due to a) the living grandparents being further from human reach than the dead ones; b) John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon; c) F*#!ING LOCKDOWN, I cleared my throat, quivered a little, and noted we are failures but would try harder.

Making clear to the household we couldn’t accept this hopeless scenario I committed to drive up Cerberus’ standards immediately and postponed my work team call until evening. This instantly upset all my colleagues who had marked 5pm onwards as ‘beer time!’. My only surprise was they haven’t moved on to the gin by then. I have.

As Lord Sumption might have said, one must make decisions when it comes down to it. In this case alienating my workforce and own boss by pushing a meeting to an inconvenient hour beats getting publicly shamed by Cerberus’ teacher in the fake classroom they’ve conjured online. Nothing comes close to lockdown for demonstrating what a bunch of approval seeking flimflams all other parents in your child’s class are. This of course is their view of me too. 

Mrs M and I can’t compete with the tiger mummies of our village and its bucolic surrounds. Today we woke up to about 1 foot of snow. The class feed was full of updates on inventive projects completed amidst the big freeze. One child, presumably assisted by a small army of Inuits, built an igloo, including indoor lighting and a reading corner. All it made me think was ‘where do Inuits do the toilet? Do they stick their bums out of the open window? Do they were special sealskin nappies?’.

When I went for a bracing stroll to wash away the old engine oil flowing through my blood, I met village chum Lizzy with her daughter. Her school task of the day? Build an exact replica of the Titanic made from snow. I make a mental note that we should never have moved here. My rash thoughts are banished in an instant when I ask if they completed the task. “Pffft”, she snorted. “We don’t have time for that kind of rubbish. I’ve got work to do!” Amen, Lizzy, Amen.

Lockdown Home School – Day Eight Inauguration Day

In our house we have a vested interest in all things USA. Three quarters of us are officially American. The inauguration of the 46th President was therefore inescapable. It would be fair to say we cast a somewhat critical leer towards Biden’s zimmer-shuffle to the Oval Office; as towards his predecessor’s many indiscretions.

Not so the family we’ve left on US soil. Never more batty has been their social media feeds. The first which dragged us like a Kansas tornado from rage to amusement and back again was that of our twenty-something niece, who asserted solemnly from a beach that we must #StaySafe and #StayAtHome. Factoring in the enthusiasm of the young, we could give her a lesson or two about what ‘Stay At Home’ actually means. We did not. 

Questions we wanted to but did not ask: 

Do you live on the beach now?

Is this beach the twenty miles+ we know it is from your house if you haven’t moved?

Do you know that #StayAtHome for us means if we put the bins out there’s a 50/50 chance a neighbour will report us to the police?

Others were more sanguine in their approach to the brave new dawn; “Oh my God, so AMAZING we don’t have a FASCIST in charge anymore!”; “HOPE”; “HOPE IS ALIVE”; “We are SAVED at LAST”.  You get the gist.

One close relation in her mid-thirties, Madeleine, waxed lyrical on the news a mass vaccination centre was to open at Dodgers Stadium. For the Scottish inbreds reading, that’s in ‘Los Angeles’; a major southern Californian metropolis which expanded fantastically in the early twentieth century, going on to provide many of the cultural touchpoints of modern American history; such as the movie industry or ‘Hollywood’, gangland warfare, pulp fiction, race riots and a innovative water supply system via the desert.

Madeleine was ever so pleased to have a vaccine potentially available for her just round the corner. Interestingly she already worked from home pre-pandemic, has no children, is neither fat or sick, and taking bonkers to a new level gets herself tested every fortnight for COVID-19 ‘just in case’. Her sage advice on us questioning this strategy is that “I don’t know about you guys, but over here all the people dying are in their 30s and 40s”. 

I think to myself ‘that cannot be true’. I check. It isn’t. This is however the same kin who after a lifetime ignoring elections has taken to dotting her expansive social media presence with BLM and “TRUMP IS A NAZI” paraphernalia. 

Madeleine is not alone amongst our family in the Land Of The Free. A surprising number of former ‘don’t give a f***’-ers suddenly find themselves decked out with catchphrases of the moment and superior otherworldly goodness. It seems crackers to me, particularly when I know a good number are first-class specialists in their field of Nursing, History of Art, etc., but have never heard of Henry Kissinger and think Abraham Lincoln delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

The fact is, they are positively willing an American lockdown to happen. In the federal system it seems inconceivable, but hasn’t Trump shown anything can come to pass?

Having taken it on the chin for this past year I have to say it’s the final straw. We still, but now half-heartedly, think the USA will be our great escape from Scotland’s Stasi.

My temple throbs all day; Cerberus, Medusa, Mrs M and I have gone potty and increasingly illiterate, and instability abounds like we’ve never experienced in our lives. Why would anyone wish it upon themselves? 

Today is the perfect example. We signed in to school. That was the sum total of learning. Mrs M and I’s work took up the rest of our time whilst Cerberus and Medusa knocked chunks out of each others faces a) in the living room; b) in each bedroom; c) in the kitchen; d) in the garden. They are battered and bruised, and should the social work department arrive they’d better remember the plot of Oliver Twist. I have read it to them but as with every utterance from my lips they didn’t hear a thing. 

Our object each day is to make sure we get to bed without requiring to visit hospital. We have had to do so twice already in lockdown, one visit per young ‘un and both related to foreign objects having been lodged by another child into an orifice. 

If the great ship of freedom, known as America, swelled into our peripheral vision we’d light all our flares and scream for a rope to pull us out of this sinking dinghy. 

My advice to our overseas cousins right now; be careful what you wish for. What are the odds on the USA still being in lockdown in January 2025? I’ve a feeling we’ll still be..

Lockdown Home School – Day Seven

This morning we sign in ‘harrumph, yours, Cerberus’ with a faint whiff of protest. This lockdown malarkey is not for us; man, woman, child or child-beast. Guilt creeps up my spine when jovial Mrs E fires us an instant reply celebrating the wonder of Tuesday. 

I am not sure why the second day of the school week seems so hard in lockdown; perhaps it did during peacetime too but I never paid much attention.

An onslaught of real work awaits Mrs M and I today which whilst satisfactory in its undertaking doesn’t add sufficient sheen, or help, when two 3-feet high bipeds destroy the peace and fabric of our domestic hovel. 

I’ve lined up a furious burst of activity. We’ve a live lesson to get through then I plan to take Cerberus and Medusa walkies in the afternoon with a friend and their brood. 

The live lesson is a tense affair; we need to make it through 15 minutes of teaching with no mute button in an intimate four child only virtual classroom. Debretts would be proud of Cerberus’ first seven minutes but thereafter he just saunters off.

It leaves me in a sticky predicament. I foolishly sat on one side of him to provide encouragement but now realise I cannot chase without crossing the camera line. There is a pregnant pause as I await his return. He doesn’t and worse, because he has left the door open, his sister swans in and hops into his seat. Before I let her destroy Cerberus’ limited future prospects with an avalanche of “I hate you Mrs E” “I hate you Emily” “I hate you Anna” I forfeit my invisibility, slam the laptop shut and hoick Medusa into the next room. Cerberus is having an utter meltdown somewhere and Mrs M advises me “he is overwhelmed”. 

My concept of ‘overwhelmed’ sits somewhere in the same latitude as being savaged by a Yeti or having your entire family killed in an aeroplane crash. It seems the term is overused. 

I consider the possibility I have a clinical incapacity for empathy. I mentioned that jokingly recently in a child-based setting; was it a shop, playpark..? I genuinely can’t remember but do recall the reaction of others. A stolid unremitting silence. It was a grave moment and filled me with the instant urge to run into the mountains, surviving on a diet of lichen and deer droppings.

We have failed the home school test yet again so I send a quick email to Mrs E apologising for ducking out. Ever the optimist she notes it was just great to see him. I don’t even think she was being sarcastic. I feel proud to have a child under such glowing care. 

On our afternoon walk we gather children like a trans-activist does Scottish ministerial supporters, and unleash them on the world. Unlike the craven world of politics, our children tell it like it is. “My daddy is a liar” I hear my friend’s son tell a stranger. Instantly Cerberus repeats this and points at me. 

I look dough-eyed at the stranger and silently plead they take the children away. Neither my friend or I make any effort to refute the allegations. 

I’ve a vision of myself from the last time I looked in the mirror, which would have been around 2013, and consider that man could be trusted to care for the future of our race. 

There’s a nagging sense in my cerebral cortex that my lifestyle since may have tarnished my phizog permanently. I catch a glimpse of our reflection in the playpark slide. With our milky coffee which we’ve brought in tupperware dribbling down our beards, black bags under our eyes and bobble hats, we are identikit homeless sex offenders.

I’m filled with cheer as I stop at the local shop for two bottles of wine before home, but it’s only a brief gasp of life. 

Another good friend emails to tell me they are having a hard time and not coping well with lockdown any more. I can immediately think of two others who feel the same and remind myself to phone them.

For all the calamity we face each day in our failure to raise Cerberus and Medusa well, so many we know have hit a brick wall. 

The snow is coming down thick and fast tonight, offering a glimmer of timetabling for sledging tomorrow with the children.

I ask myself though, how long can this winter possibly last? And at what cost?

Lockdown Home School – Day Six

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?

Weekend Lockdown

I can just about remember how weekends used to be a thing; separated by an invisible wall from more strenuous days. No more. The main alteration from weekdays now is that guilt is non-existent when it comes to failing our progeny’s education. 

On the down side it means Mrs M and I’s vim for structure with Cerberus and Medusa is dead as a door nail. Saturdays and Sundays resemble active warfare, with multiple skirmishes taking place at any one time. 

Despite Cerberus having slept a whole night in his own bed, and watched The Little Mermaid with his sister since before dawn while we, hidden away, supped coffee, when the final credits appear he explodes through the door like a torpedo screaming “I’m gonna kill you!”. This is not unusual so I hold off on contacting the Disney+ complaints department.  I do take my mug and lock myself in the toilet. I reminisce that for the quivering attorney in Jurassic Park, barricading himself in the lavatory didn’t lead to safety but a mauling.

I don’t bother washing (perk of lockdown) then dash to the village shop for the weekend papers, where I face the downside of lockdown (every piece of news). Regardless, one must look for silver linings so am tickled to read the entire island of Barra has had to self-isolate due to some evil wrongdoers from the mainland attending a wedding; bringing in a spate of dry coughs. Although we prize ourself on our collective spirit as an island nation it can’t match the furry-toed egalitarianism found in the Hebridean archipelago. The islands’ MP claims “no-one is to blame” which according to Google Translate is “we found the culprit, have built a 40-foot high wicker tower and are dealing with the matter internally”. 

Washing my hands of such matters, I hear a gurgling death rasp and note Cerberus is actively strangling Medusa on the couch. They are separated and Mrs M is none the wiser.

Mother sends me a text message. It reads “TWERP!!!!!”. Whilst I can understand the sentiment, I am for a moment flummoxed by what sent her off the deep end. She immediately sends another which reads “Cxxx”. That seems rather harsh. I don’t respond.

It dawns on me later that I provided answers for her weekly crossword puzzle, so assume it relates to that. Doubt lingers. 

Where we live; a village which the National Trust would coin ‘idyllic’ were they not focussing on getting children to educate elder members on their historic privilege, we are blighted by cyclists. They arrive as 20 million locusts do, eating all our bacon and eggs, dribbling lard down their immaculate spandex skinsuits. With a few tweaks, they could form an attractive proposition to a village full of lustful cow-topplers at a loss for something to do, but alas. 99% are middle aged men, smell like the wet washing you haven’t taken out of the machine after two days and worse, ensure there is always a queue outside our community gossip chamber. I used to dumbly wait my turn, but now elbow past and yodel through the open window to get the my daily fix. I blow Patsy a kiss.

Of all the privations we’ve faced these past 10 months, few come near to putting up with these lunatics dressed as custard-filled stockings, gawping over our hedge and generally enjoying life. Whilst I chain smoke in the shed and mutter incoherently, lockdown has completely bypassed them. 

I consider writing a letter to Scotland’s Chief of Police advocating a trade off; rather than £1000 fines for people releasing their children into a distant woodland for badger-baiting practice we should sanction all over-50s whenever they purchase lycra. I shall also write to the Council advising they increase the number of potholes in our street. I will offer our pick-axe. 

That way Cerberus, Medusa and I can sit on the garden bench and chortle every time one knocks their teeth out by our front door. If there’s one thing we need more than anything now, it’s some quality family time.