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Puffins optional.

August 19, 2018

I work a 52 week contract, which means I'm in school most of the summer holidays. And can I be completely honest? The last 4 weeks have been bliss. Even though I've only managed to take about 4 days of actual leave, going to work has been a joy. Why? Because there's been virtually nobody there. And that doesn't mean I don't like or enjoy the company of my colleagues, or that I don't love the noise and chatter of students as they barge into my office to tell me that the goats have broken into the rabbit run again, but it's because I'm basically a hermit by nature, and the summer holidays allow me to find some space in which to be alone.


If I could picture my ideal life, I'd live in a stone tower overlooking a buffeted cove, on a hard-to-reach island, with just my immediate family and a large selection of dogs, cats, goats, guinea pigs and probably a miniature donkey or two. Ideally there would be puffins, but it's not a deal-breaker. I'm realisitic in that respect. Our  property would be fenced off so no-one could randomly knock on the door, there would be no landline, and I would spend my days writing, listening to audio books, and making half-hearted attempts to learn how to 'craft'. My interactions would be almost entirely online, my friendships virtual, and my public persona would be filtered, backlit, enhanced, cropped and scheduled to be exactly what I wanted it to be. 


This is, of course cloud cuckoo land. I have to go to work to pay the mortgage. I live by the sea, admittedly, but in a street, with neighbours, and people who knock on the door delivering things. I have to communicate with doctors, schools, salespeople, all of the time, but actually every one of those interactions is an effort. I would much rather avoid almost all social intercourse. Which is why I've loved having the school virtually to myself. 


I can arrive, wander around the building to see how the contractors are getting on, unlock my door, boot up my PC and read my emails WITHOUT A SINGLE PERSON INTERRUPTING ME!!! Hell, I can even bring my dog in with me and have the radio on. I can make a cup of tea, and finish it! There is milk in the fridge,  no dirty mugs in the sink, and I can work, solidly, on something complex and intricate, giving it my whole attention. There are no other plates spinning other than those of being a full time working parent. I can have conversations with suppliers and contacts which last more than 2 minutes and I can experience a sense of accomplishment as I complete each task,  rather than ticking off a to-do list that's ranked by the most urgent. It's quite liberating.


And in the late afternoons, I've wandered back to my imaginary tower by the sea for evenings and weekends of quiet relaxation in the  gentle embrace of my family. We've laughed and played and explored and created. We've cherished our time together, tended our herd and chuckled at the puffins as they played on the cliff edge.


As the weeks have gone on, I have felt the knot in my shoulders gradually release. I have slowly and finally exhaled. I have shaken my limbs loose and allowed myself to lie back and float on a sea of relative equilibrium. I still have heaps to do, otherwise I'd be sat on the beach writing that novel, but I'm no longer in a constant state of high anxiety, one breathing exercise from a panic attack. I haven't taken enough annual leave, and that's annoying, but the peace of a quiet school has allowed me to take time to heal from what has been a difficult and stressful year.


So I have no worries at all about working all year round - that's the contract, that's the job. There's nothing I enjoy more than watching a new heating system being installed, seeing classrooms being decorated, redesigning offices, smelling fresh paint and floor polish. There's a simile in there too, isn't there, about healing ourselves as we heal our schools - after 39 week battering we all need a little restoration.


And as we crank up the engines again, ready for GCSE results and the run up to a new September, I'm going to make the most of being alone for as long as I can, before the hurly burly starts again. But I'll leave my tower on the cliffs every now and then, and take a few walks along the bay towards the bustle of the town, to acclimatise myself, in readiness. I'll make my way to the market and refill my stocks of patience, resilience and empathy. And I'll buy some herring, for the puffins, because you know what? I really bloody do want puffins.








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