The sun’s come out in anger for the first time this year and as I am British I have a cultural responsibility. Rising to this I took to the garden with a deck chair and a tight vest in order to burn its shape and outline into my pasty body as soon as possible. I pinged at around 3pm on day one. Job done. Laid out with my top off, I now look like the beginnings of a helicopter landing pad dug out of raspberry jam.
Sunburn has made me grouchy. The children haven’t noticed a marked change in my mood but they do now look up when I walk into the room. This is not for any reason of concern, it is more that my skin is now so dry from the sudden change in temperature and my disdain for the advised protective products that I sound like a walking crisp packet. They only look up because they think I’ve opened a bag. Their interest wanes the moment they realise I haven’t. So off I walk. My discomfort has required me to adapt my stride so my legs don’t rub together, while also holding my arms out from my side for the same reason. The result is a movement that is stiff-limbed and clumsy and to reflect this, my wife has nicknamed me ‘Forky,’ in reference to a character in Toy Story who is made out a fixed plastic fork, goggle eyes and some pipe cleaner.
This name has lead to some misunderstandings when shouted.
We are still on Easter holidays of course. The depressing thing about this is that it would appear we have been for a couple of months now and still we are not actually at f##king Easter yet. This weekend is a bank holiday weekend apparently. Even the calendar is mocking me.
The woman over the road is tallying. By this I mean she is keeping a tally of people walking past her house, making sure they are taking their one walk a day and no more. I know this because she is making sure everyone knows it. Whenever someone passes she bangs on her window, points at her tally chart and puts up her finger to denounce this is walk number one mister. The world needs people like her right now: diligent, determined and a stark reminder that it is all of our responsibility to keep each other safe.
But also I am a little bored, I have some time on my hands, I like a little challenge and I have a number of outfits for a number of occasions…
The first time I walked past her is just me. I waved. She put her finger up to denounce ONE! So I know that was it, my one walk for the day.
It has begun.
The next time I walked past I used the Bee Gee slash sex-offender look from a previous diary entry. This time I needed a wig but I was still very capable of finishing the look with back-combed belly hair and you-can’t-tell-where-I’m-looking-pervert-glasses. I even did a little disco dance past her, mainly in celebration when I, again, get one finger raised to confirm that the disguise had her fooled.
I’m getting into this now. The next run is a little off-the-shoulder number, kitten heels, hairy legs and a single finger that I press to my lips like I have been a very naughty boy. This time I got no response, she just seemed to step away from the window and I was left with my arms out, stood in the middle of the road, my handbag dripping from my open palm, legs shoulder-width apart demanding an explanation - like it’s 3am outside a Thanet nightclub and the date I’d been buying drinks for all night is pulling away in a taxi.
By the time I was changed into the inflatable dinosaur suit for my fourth pass the police had arrived. A separate neighbour believes the chase that ensued is the funniest thing he has ever seen.
And for the record – in her police statement, little-miss-tally-over-the-road states that this was the first time she had seen the ‘hairy-legged burns victim in a dress’ walk past her house. Chalk that one up as a win for Gallagher.
I’ve been having really weird dreams. One was so far-fetched that I was actually out of the house, in a coffee shop, the bastard kids were at school and someone else’s responsibility and I didn’t have to know any maths at all.
A big event recently was putting the clocks forwards to ensure it is now harder to put the children to bed. The lighter evenings are not all bad however as they have presented me with an opportunity to spend some time on myself… to get in shape, to be the best me I can be.
So yesterday, at around midday, while sat in the sun with a Hazelnut Magnum on the go, and, having lost a bit of the cracked chocolate to the cavern that is now my belly button, I made a decision. My wife was sat next to me. I looked at her and poked my bulbous, isolation-fuelled pot belly and announced to the wife that I am going to start that 60 day fitness DVD programme I have always talked about doing ‘when I had the time.’ The one that cost me £100 six years ago.
She didn’t engage. Part of her was doubting me, I could tell that. So I gave her a rousing speech: I told her that when it comes to getting in shape the essential ingredients are willpower, determination and sheer guile. You have to be able to put your mind to something to get it done and, fortunately, these are all things that I have in abundance. I would have proved that six years ago when I bought it too, but the cellophane wrapper on that DVD is an absolute joke… ridiculous, far too tight round that case. I do remember giving it a good go but some things are just insurmountable...
She looked me up and down and then said… ‘yeah, you like starting stuff don’t you.’
So I thought, right then, that’s only made me more determined! The cellophane this time was short work with the aid of a pair of scissors (time must have weakened it see) and I set up the DVD player in the garden, I figure if I’m going to do a workout, I might as well inspire those who can overlook me. In my mind, as I emerge from my house with pop socks and my leotard from the nineties, I look like Jane Fonda (for a moment I consider another pass on tally-woman but I was lucky to get off with a warning). But it is during the first few star jumps of the warmup where I catch my reflection in a distant window that I realise I actually look like someone has shaken up a sweaty lava lamp.
That cellophane wouldn’t go back on either.
Laters yeah. Stay in, stay safe, protect our wonderful NHS and have a wonderful bank holiday weekend. Indoors.
Today is day 44 of isolation with my family. Piggy is now in charge and family meetings are called daily by someone blowing into a conch. What the hell even is a conch? Just the word makes me angry – it’s so up itself and pretentious… ooh, look at me, I’m a conch! You’re not, you’re a jumped up shell mate, now f@ off.
I am angry. Everything is making me angry. We have been in here now for 58 days and still there is no return of live sport, actual schoolteachers or any sign of conversation with an actual adult other than my wife. Don’t get me wrong, I like talking to my wife but I-spy is becoming a little bit tedious now...
Wife: ‘I-spy, with my little eye, something beginning with H.’
Me: ‘It’s house again, isn’t it…’
School’s out. The last update was just before that. You didn’t miss much and can rest assured that the last days of lessons were a mismatch of terrible maths, worse drawings, me wondering if English is actually my first language and some practical lessons (the six year old is now incredible with throwing knives – there’s real talent there). I have no idea what day this is but some b@stard had a pop, they got in touch on FB and said I’d missed a day or two of my ‘journal’. One – this is not a journal, this is a rant at best, a cry for help more like. And Two - ‘missed a day or two!?’ What does that even mean anymore? And how long does it have to be before I’ve not missed days, more a period. As in, a period of my life. I was in my prime when this started! Tall, slim, sexy… Look at me now… Short, broken, so full of Pizza Hut stuffed crust that I reckon if you pulled my arm off it would have that delicious stringy cheese stretched out between it – and just slightly alcoholic. I mean, not so I depend on it. I just really need it. Or I get the shakes.
They took the recycling away last Thursday. I was terrified of being judged… the sheer volume of wine and beer bottles in my recycling… we cleared up less after my wedding reception… So when they came Thursday morning I stayed in bed waiting for it and it turns out I needn’t have worried – I am not the only one! Every bin as they came up the road was tipped up to make a sound like someone had ram-raided an off-licence! It was beautiful.
The kids are now officially on Easter Holiday. This means there is no home-schooling as part of surviving the day, so now - and for the next two weeks – it is literally just surviving the day. Yesterday afternoon we watched Frozen II as a family. They have both seen it twice before and I have not seen it at all. They can also work Alexa to play the soundtrack just about every waking hour. This means that they are on hand to not only tell me what is about to happen throughout the film but also to sing along like a couple of alley-cats trying to ward off would-be attackers at every one of the bastard songs. They sing like sirens. Not the sort that are part of mythology, who sit out on rocks and lead sailors to their doom with their beautiful, alluring voices, but the sort that sit on top of a police car and slice the air up into a raucous cacophony of NEEEEEEEEENAAAAAAAAA’S…..
This could have been a wonderful family moment despite everything but instead it was the point where I realised that, right now, I would rather sit and watch a film with an open wound than these two poorly brought up, feral little shites. They ate all my popcorn. I try not to be bitter about it. And just to rub salt into the (open) wound, they then sang with their mouths full.
Fortunately, as the children have become more and more unbearable, our springer spaniel has also upped his game. Not one to be left out, he has decided to encroach on the one thing that my wife finds more affective than anything else for a bit of escapism - she loves spending a little time lost doing a jigsaw puzzle. So the spaniel has recognised this and eaten 25 puzzle pieces of her one ‘under construction’. We only know this because he spat a piece out yesterday, a moment before he swooped to steal a BBQ burger in the garden. Then the wife ‘finished’ said puzzle later in the evening. Except for the 25 gaps, laid out to mock me in turn. He’s always my dog when he’s badly behaved. With my wife raging at me like it was my fault I come back quickly with the suggestion that, thinking about it, I’ve bagged up his garden poos and they are still in the dustbin if she wants the challenge of seeing if they fit together? This does nothing to appease her. Two puzzles for the price of one! I try, along with a little shuffle and that expression that says come on! Every cloud! If anything she’s angrier. I’ll never understand women.
I also took the plunge and shaved my head. I said it was coming. The prompt was a picture on a newsfeed that showed David Beckham has now shaved his head. David Beckham is much like the afore-mentioned Brad Pitt – it suits him, any hair suits him, he is an attractive man and remains so – even with a one-all-over. I thought that somehow, this time, I would be the same. I am not. David and Brad remain sex symbols, I look like the prognosis is not good and I am having one last trip to Disney.
Fortunately there is light at the end of the miserable tunnel. Wednesday evening I get to put the bins out again, which involves a walk up to the end of the drive and back. And Friday I have a new book out. It is no less sweary than the above and, much like living in a world where the children are at home all the time and there is no getting away from them, there is no promise of a happy ending… But you can pre-order it here:
Stay safe. Stay home. Don't worry about your recycling.
My cat’s a bastard. I watch him stroll in through the cat flap, unruffled, carefree, still with the stench of fresh air lingering on his coat. He’s been out. Outside. Out there, wherever the hell he wants to. He might just be coming back from my favourite coffee shop for all I know. Maybe right now it is full of cats; a burly Tom is the barista, the straggly street cat is up at the piano ‘cause he knows a tune while a couple of kittens bring out the drinks and pastries as a Saturday job. Just getting a little bit of pocket money for catnip at the weekend.
My cat stops in the middle of patch of sunlight in the middle of the kitchen floor. He knows I’m looking at him. He doesn’t care. First he’s been out, now he’s licking his own gentleman’s area.
I wish I could do that. (The going out bit I mean, obviously… honestly… you people.)
I watched the neighbour’s cat earlier too. He lives opposite. He’s one of these puffs-of-white cats, like someone has drawn a couple of black smudges for feet on an earbud and then had it manicured and blow-dryed. He always looks well turned out – too pretty for something that basically lives on the street. Like how I imagine Elton John looks in his pyjamas: white, puffy – but always absolutely marvellous. I watched this cat casually walking along the top of a fence – just because he can. One paw brought round to place in front of the other – delicate, elegant, arrogant. Bastard.
I watched him for maybe twenty minutes and then I only stopped because he went out of sight. If he had dozed off on the top of that fence I might still be watching him now. Waiting for a highlight like a twitch or a sneeze. Why? You may ask… The same reason you’ve just read three paragraphs about cats. God I’m bored…
And now I have an added pressure. Every time I go into the bathroom I am considering when might be the right time to use those clippers on the windowsill. To shave my head. A number one all over. I did it before but for very different reasons. It was around the time when Brad Pitt did Fight Club and he had that close-shaved look. All the girls well fancied him. My mistake was not considering that all the girls have always well-fancied him - no matter his hairstyle - because he’s that sort of bloke. If he were a cat he’d be one of those white bastards elegantly wondering across a fence, his paws neatly brought round one in front of the other, looking like a puffed up earbud with feet drawn on – well aware that the creepy neighbour opposite is looking at him behind turned-in blinds. When Brad Pitt shaved his head he still looked sexy-good. He had the face and the body to pull it off. I did not. I had the face I have now, which comes free with a freakishly long neck and the body of a racing snake. He looked like a Hollywood Hunk. I looked like a toffee apple.
The clippers have remained on the window sill for now. But I know it’s coming.
The cat’s just gone out again. He asked me if I needed anything. Said he might be a while. I hate cats.
We split the day today. Both the wife and I have work to do. She agreed to have the kids for the morning so I could write some words and cover a radio interview and then I would come down for the afternoon and she would lock herself away to work. When I came down the kids had done most of their work. They were pre-occupied too, both playing nicely and leaving me the hell alone. The wife was shut up in Josie’s room (it has a desk) and I saw a little opportunity. Yes I was supposed to be doing some activities with the kids but they seemed to be keeping themselves amused… and it was probably educational…
Anyway. I took a gamble. I thought the wife would be busy. I thought she would be locked away. I thought I would get away with it. Four minutes after I snuck into the living room I got this picture sent to my phone. It was from the wife. It was entitled ‘home-schooling.’
Today we start with history. We have to read a diary written by someone who was a boy in ancient Egypt. In this diary he describes his house, daily routine and what his dad does for a living. It is quickly clear that the answers to these questions are: shithole, trying not to die and carpenter for no pay and the constant threat of death - in that order. That is not how it was described in my child’s book, I am paraphrasing a little. What I note is that despite the house being made out of sun-baked mud brick and having no roof in a heat so oppressive it could even melt Katie Hopkins’ heart and that his dad will be crippled and broke by the age of thirty… there is very little moaning. I compare that myself, to my own version of a diary, to this one where I have moaned constantly about boredom, children and eating marmite and suddenly there is a part of me that thinks maybe this is not so bad after all. That actually I should be feeling lucky. Yes it’s a strange time but all I am having to do is spend more time with my family, with my wife, my children. At least we have each other.
Then the internet goes down and the children suddenly look up from their iPads and start saying the daddy, daddy, daddy word again and I think – shit me… stick me in a mud hut with Katie Hopkins and a distinct lack of drinking water. And do it now!
After the diary the eldest child is tasked with a writing piece and the other is somewhere in the garden, eating whatever she finds – it’s not that there’s a lack of food, she’s just becoming a little more feral every day. I take the opportunity to have a few minutes on social media. It is much the same as the last time I looked. Tracey from Facebook is angry at people for going out as she can see them out of her window. She goes on to tell us all that it is NOT OKAY and that we are LITERALLY KILLING PEOPLE and if we just do as the Government advises then we can all stay healthy. She is so angry she has not only used BLOCK CAPITALS for her ideas but also explains that she has smoked the last of her cigarettes.
Someone else has chosen this Facebook to ‘thank’ whoever was driving a white Ford like an idiot just now and who nearly hit me and I have a son (no mention if he was in the car or not) and continues a rant about how a good driver like them drives. And I can’t help but think that social media is now the place for the angry. Time was, when you were angry with someone outside your house in the street, or if you had a car cut you up, you used to have a good old lean out the window and a good out swear up. It would make you feel better. They might shout back. Now they feel better. Maybe there was a punch up. Two people feeling better together. But there was community, there was a sense of belonging to something. Now what do we have? A timeline and a red emoji with its mouth covered. That’ll teach ‘em.
Bring back punch-ups is what I’m saying. I think it’s healthier in the long run.
A quick flick to Twitter and it is immediately clear that this is a platform for frustration also. Persons, institutes or whole cultures blamed here include Jeremy Clarkson, the police, China and of course ‘everyone who is not the person who sent the tweet.’
On Instagram there is a picture of a cat who has an expression on his face like a big grin at all times. Instagram wins.
Art. I take this lesson as I read the instructions and it looks like something I might actually be able to do. Basically, you are to draw round your hand in various shapes to make it look like an animal. This is my ‘thumbs up’ snail:
I know. Genius isn’t it. This is genuinely the most productive thing I have done in two weeks. I’ve simply called him Daytime as he moves so slow I want to smash his shitty little face in. Nice colouring though. I did that. I don’t know where the kids’ drawings are. They were crap anyway.
I had contact today from a radio station – Academy FM Folkestone. They’re a local station (to me at least!) and they have asked if I would like to have a little chat on the phone with them tomorrow. It should be about a brand new book I have coming out on the 10th April but they specially said that they would also like to talk about this blog. So I said I would. I also said that some of it wasn’t true – just in case Social Services have put them up to it…
It will be here at 10:15am (uk time) tomorrow (Wednesday 1st April): https://www.academyfmfolkestone.com. You can listen live on anything that connects to the internet. Unless it is as reliable as mine and has gone down. Honestly, we might as well live in Ancient Egypt.
Je M’appelle Charlie. Je suis pissed off.
Oh yeah, that’s right… not only do I have to a part time Carol Vorderman, a literary genius, history buff and totally undo everything that I believe a bus stop to be – now I have to be bilingual!
Granted this is all Primary School level but allow me to be over-dramatic for a moment here please. I simply can’t work in these conditions.
Today I’m teaching French. Considering I thought Derek Trotter was speaking fluent on that tv programme ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and could never understand why everyone was laughing at him, this is a sight to behold. Even reading it from a book it is little more than pigeon French. The way my girls are looking at me when I really throw myself at the pronunciation... I even wrap some onions round my neck and shave my beard down to a tiny moustache but it does nothing – I am no better?
Talking of doing nothing, I called the teacher today. I think she’s starting to get the hump with me. She said no I don’t know when there is going to be live sport back on the tele and if you call me again in an attempt to pass your children off on me then I will be forced to call Social Services and maybe even the police. I told her there will be no need for that. I told her I had already called both of those and neither of them would take the little b@stards off me either.
Well! Merci very much!
Week TWO is off to a sweary start.
I only know today is Monday because I asked Alexa. The weekend passed in a blur or getting up, then going back to bed again – likely twice. In-between these two major events I also know that I read articles on my phone entitled ‘breast enlargement – options you didn’t know existed,’ ‘all the things you didn’t know about your own body,’ and ‘size really matters – what size garden to the happiest people have?’ I know that I read them in their entirety too, I just don’t know why.
Oh yes I do. Sh#t I’m bored…
The cars are polished to within an inch of their lives (the wife has taken to doing her hair makeup using the bonnet on the one on the drive) the garden looks like the Royal Botanic Gardens – I even trimmed my bush to look like an exclamation mark – and I’m so well practiced on a child-size basketball hoop that I do the movement to help me get to sleep at night.
Which brings me onto bored children. Like trying to drown a bag of cats in lake they are (no complaints! I haven’t actually tried! The car broke down…) – all elbows, spitting, clawing, complaining and trying to get the tape off the neck.
Sunday I managed to cobble a Sunday roast together for a little sense of normality and to have an excuse not to be the one keeping the kids occupied for an hour or two. The meat centre piece came from the bottom of the freezer. What it actually was I am still none the wiser. When I found it I clearly remembered doing it – that is putting a lump of something brown and meaty in a freezer bag and labelling it Mystery Meat! because I sometimes do things I think will be funny when my wife later finds it. Fortunately, in the circumstances, it was me who found this one. And I didn’t tell her the backstory to her dinner. I didn’t want to ruin it.
And I’m a vegetarian so what do I care...
To finish Sunday my wife and I ran a quiz on one of these video-conference apps. This is the same facility as important business people based all over the world use to get together on the same monitor screen to talk about important business, the sort of thing that might go on to shape all of our lives. The Prime Minister is using a similar video-conferencing facility currently to run the country from his self-isolation at this very moment.
I used it to ask questions such as ‘who did Michael Jackson marry’ and asking those taking part to identify the lyrics from the rap ‘classic’ getting’ jiggy wit it. Members of the family and close friends were asked to position their camera phones so they could be seen and heard with the idea being of bringing a pub quiz to their living room. A lovely idea I thought. Sure enough, every member of my family managed to arrange their camera just so. And by that, I mean just so I could spend ninety minutes staring at their nostril hair. It’s like a car crash. You should look away, you want to look away, but you can’t look away.
Time for a lovely little glass of Rioja and then a few more basketball hoops in bed while the wife moans about her tummy ache. Honestly: moan, moan, moan with her.
It’s taken four full days to get there but I would like to start day 5 by announcing that I have found the answer to every question asked of you by a child or for a child at any time: the answer is always: a lovely little glass of Rioja. Let’s try it.
Q: A square is 4cm wide. What is its perimeter?
A lovely little glass of Rioja.
Q: There are eight apples in one box. Who many apples are there in six boxes?
A lovely little glass of Rioja.
Q: Eighteen cupcakes are shared equally between three boxes. How many cupcakes in each box?
A: I don’t share cupcakes and a lovely little glass of Rioja.
Q: Daddy, I picked something of my leg and there is now blood and some other stuff that is a different colour and the cat was on my leg and now he has it on his back and some of it I got on the wall where it was on my fingers before I came to tell you about what I did with my leg. Can I get the virus by eating the scab? I think I ate the scab.
A: A lovely little glass of Rioja.
Q: 355 < A lovely little glass of Rioja.
Today school has none of the structure of the last few days as the work set for the week has largely been completed in the first four days. As a result we agree to give the girls a long weekend and buy a new game on the Playstation Virtual Reality for them. It is a game they have been after for ages. It is genuinely a game where, among other things, they can tidy their ‘virtual’ bedrooms with two controllers and a headset. They are both adept at the task at hand. Their virtual rooms are soon sparkling clean.
Their actual bedrooms, remain dark, dank and abandoned. Entering either of the rooms is dicing with a likely animal attack of some sort. Certainly something rodent-like is lurking in the corners, kicking over abandoned yoghurt pots, unsettling the underwear that is stuck to the wall as it reacts to the sound of my entry and makes off, spilling stale breadcrumbs and tiny raison-like droppings. It might be one of their school friends. A week before lockdown they had friends over. We didn’t count them out.
So as today there is no teaching there is also no purpose to my day so I find myself wandering around the house in a dressing gown, lamenting the fact that I didn’t get a haircut before all of this started. I haven’t shaved either. I catch regular glimpses of my wild bouffant mingling with tufty facial hair in the numerous reflective surfaces around the house and decide that I should at least get dressed. Suddenly inspired, I opt for the tightest jeans imaginable – enough to take my voice up an octave due to the grip they take up around my gentlemen’s area and a shirt with oversized cuffs that I leave unbuttoned right down near to my navel. I finish the look by backcombing my belly hair to make it look like it is sprouting from my chest and top the look with a classic shape of sunglasses.
I figure if I’m going to have the hair of a Bee Gee…
Barry Gibb was my aim. The mirror however, shows me a sex offender with back-combed belly hair and sunglasses that are ideal to hide where I am actually looking. Go out like this at any time of the year and people will be demanding I stay back a lot more than two metres. Realising my mistake I quickly change back into the same clothes I have now been wearing for what feels like months – board shorts and a hoody. I ask myself a question to test my new found theory. What should a bored, pointless individual who is no longer impersonating a sex offender have for breakfast?
A lovely little glass of Rioja.
It is 8:40am.
In an effort to feel like I can achieve something I wash the cars out the front. I am passed by a lot of dogwalkers. After an hour or so I realise that it is actually the same dog just with different walkers.
It is an odd atmosphere. Anyone passing seems desperate for a conversation. These are strange and testing times after all and we are being told to isolate, to stay away from our fellow man and for good reason but we are just not very good at it. People miss people - even an idle chat about the weather with a total stranger. These people might live alone, they might not have seen another soul since the lock down and they probably see me as an opportunity for a little bit of human contact as they pass, for some compassion perhaps or maybe just to feel like everything’s alright, like all is normal – to be assured.
After the second person interrupts me, bleating on about the world we live in I’m back in the house for my headphones. I go for the big cans that are not ideal as they bump of the car door and roof when I am hoovering it but they’re big and obvious and should send a message so I get left the hell alone. I figure if the headphone cans don’t work then I will go shirtless in the sun. Nothing says cross the road and avoid conversation like back-combed belly hair.
At this point I wonder if this phrase should actually be up-combed? I mean it’s not really back-combed. I google search up-combed body hair and now I have to delete my internet history before my wife sees it.
And some of the bleach we have been using sparingly to kill nasty virus germ I have now rubbed into my own eyes. It is too late. Some sights cannot be unseen.
Red-eyed and shocked I am back to cleaning the cars. Both get a polish and a hoover. A dogwalker ignores the headphones to talk at me while I am getting up a good lather on the bonnet of the Volvo. I can’t hear what she says. She does it again so I step closer to her, take them off and say: What?
‘You should be staying away from people, I said.’ She says.
‘I was over there a minute ago!’ I reply. ‘On my drive!’
This seems to confuse her immensely, like she has suddenly realised she is not in her home, she is in fact outside. I consider that she might have been home-schooling children all week, she has that haggard, confused look. I check – she is wearing the backless slippers of the confused home-schooler. She is one of us. ‘It’s okay…’ I say gently, ‘it’s Friday! You know what you should do? A lovely little glass of Rioja…’
And that is what I am going to do. This has been fun. I wish each and every one of you a wonderful weekend. I may be back next week. Thank you to the people who have got in touch and been kind – in this current climate I am delighted that I have made some people smile, the response has been lovely. If you want to get in touch, just for a chat, maybe even because you’re feeling a little anxious and you just want someone to talk to then I’ll be somewhere else with my headphones on ignoring eye contact. And if you have any questions:
A: A lovely little glass of Rioja.
I am judgey. If you have ever seen me at the school gates then you should know that I may well have been smiling politely but when you were looking away I was running my eyes up and down to make my judgements. And based on you, I will also be judging your children. Because this is Britain and this is what we do. So if you’re dropping them off wearing a loose tracksuit over slippers with a fag on the go then I will assume that your children are effectively feral - ill behaved, dragged up heathens who eat their own bogeys or wipe them on their sibling when they are full.
Home-schooling might be teaching my children very little but I am learning a lot, mainly about myself. Isobel starts the day by picking her nose and eating her catch. She then wipes the excess on her sister. I challenge her and she clearly thinks that my anger is due to the fact that she didn’t eat it all so she shrugs and explains that she is ‘full up.’ It is 9:05am and I already need a break. I step into the garden wearing my loosest tracksuit over backless slippers and quickly get a fag on the go. I never smoked before lock down.
Today there is reading. I am struggling to begin to explain the internal battle that occurs every time a child reads to me – or even in my vicinity. When we first became pregnant I dreamed of the day my little girl would read a story book to me. That will be a bit of a moment, I thought, something quite incredible to share and enjoy.
It is not.
Any child given a book to read out loud will instantly ruin any content by adopting the same drawling tone. They can be reading out the most dramatic, the most entertaining, the funniest story ever written and it would still have all the excitement of Moira Stewart reading the shipping forecast. Or a drill. I would rather listen to a crying baby banging a wok with a rattle at 3am than two more pages of James and his giant f@cking Peach read by my own child. Just three lines in and the internal battle is real, I’m so angry I’m considering how much of that peach I could stick up James’ smug…. I digress.
Of course I hold it in and continue to grin inanely throughout. Josie accepts this as encouragement to read beyond what she was set and then asks me why I have suddenly developed a twitch in my eye that soon extends to my whole face. When the torture ends I express some or all of this opinion to my wife. She suggests that maybe it is time I had a proper break. We need shopping. Maybe I should go out.
Outside then. And for the first time in four days. I don’t want to go out. I have social media so I am suitably terrified by what some bloke called Steve off Facebook has found out from his extensive research. I don’t remember how I know Steve, he looks vaguely like a guy I used to know who sold knock-off TV dongles in-between short stays in prison but it appears he has properly got his shit together and is now a highly educated virologist.
So I am prepared. I have scraped together some home made PPE and I am aware of all government advice. It takes just a few metres down the road to realise that driving a manual car in oven gloves has its challenges. Basically you have to take your hands off the wheel to change gear so for a few seconds no one is steering… It’s still safer though. Definitely.
For the supermarket I have taken another social media post to heart and adopted the hula-hoop method. This has nothing to do with the crisps but has all to do with holding up a hula-hoop around your waist – thus sending a clear message and providing a clear barrier to keep everyone-else-the-f@ck-away. This method proves a little less effective than I hoped. The only hoop I could get hold of is my daughter’s. It is sized accordingly and instead of providing a barrier it merely grips tightly around my midriff to ensure I resemble a walking cupcake. It is also pink. I am half way round Sainsbury when I lose the feeling in my legs.
I am approached by an elderly woman in an otherwise deserted aisle. She is wizened, fragile looking and hunched over a frame that has a bag for life hanging off it. She says ‘excuse me son.’ Bless her heart! Instantly part of me thinks: ‘this is my chance to do my bit! A vulnerable member of society is going to ask for me to assist in this time of great need!’ And the other part of me is eyeing up her bag and thinking ‘if she’s got pasta in there, I could easily take her.’
Instead, she says ‘Why are you wearing a shower cap?’
I’d forgotten about that. I can see her point. Now I am outside it does feel like overkill. Unfortunately I can’t take it off as the oven gloves had rendered my thumbs useless. I couldn’t even get a grip on her pasta while she was distracted.
On returning home I am to lead the English class because I am a writer so I know English. Turns out I do not. We are writing sentences and we have to point out the noun, verb, adjective and preposition in each. I google noun despite knowing, but just to be sure. Then I google verb, despite knowing exactly what it is but just to be sure. Then I google adjective, despite knowing what it is but just to be sure. When I get to preposition I… ah fuck it. School’s out.
Art is the last lesson. My wife takes it. Soon Isobel rushes up to me where I am stood out in the garden. She shows me a picture she has done of a pencil drawn humanoid. It has a bulbous body, a fat head, googly eyes and hair that looks like it is made out of those furry pipe cleaners. It also has stick arms and tiny little hands – with three fingers on each like on the Isle of Sheppey. she’s also drawn a poop between the legs of this poor, hapless character and the expression overall is of someone smiling and thus blissfully unaware of this poop – suggesting this poor, ugly, fat old sap is also incontinent.
Daddy! Daddy! It’s you! Do you like it!
I do not. She is looking at me intently for my reaction – for my approval.
Ooh! She then says, hang on, I can draw in the shower cap!
She snatches the drawing back and is gone. I turn to the kitchen window to take in my shower-capped reflection. Through it my wife is laughing hard.
‘Why didn’t you tell me!’ I mouth at the glass and point at my head. She makes a gesture with a loosely closed fist that no wife should make towards someone they love.
She is to make it again later, at bedtime, when I ask for her to assist me with stepping out of my hoop as it appears to have shrunk during the course of the day and is now at risk of becoming a permanent feature. The eventual solution involves butter.
The new day is utter perfection. The garden is awash in a vivid green that is all the more vibrant under the scrutiny of glorious sunshine. The rain of the last few months has everything in good health. The tulips are adding their colour, bursting from the soil beneath a tree that is displaying fresh shoots. A lazy bee drifts past, its wings working hard to keep its mass afloat. Its not working. The sheer weight of its body is starting to drag it down, the wings beat faster but only serve to unsettle its bulk. It starts into a spin, the nose tipping forward and it drops from the sky like a stone to crash onto a brittle leaf that immediately breaks into tiny pieces.
All is black. Above it, two young children poke it with the rubber end of a pencil. Its eyes flicker open. Suddenly I am seeing the world through them. I am the bee. The children are two girls – my two girls - both in nighties, their slept-on hair falling forward as they loom over. They are asking the fat, useless bee a question:
what are we doing today that is fun!?
I sit upright. My back is flushing hot, my breath comes out as a rush and my eyes move round to take it all in. I am in bed, in my room. I am no longer a fat, useless bee. I announce that loudly to my wife, the words tumbling from my lips along with the last of my confusion.
She calmly replies, ‘having a strange dream were we?’
‘Yeah. It was so real!’
‘I thought so. The girls have been poking you for ages. And I never said you were a bee.’
Today is day THREE. Today is to have a different slant. Today my wife is home. This should be a good thing, a problem shared and all that. Except it isn’t. Today I will have to be less sweary, maybe carry a knife less often, maybe even refrain from threatening the six year old with it.
The start to the day is different. My wife has been talking to other adults (actual adults!) in the last few days and they have all agreed that the best start to the day is away from maths, workbooks and bus stops. Instead, the children are instructed to stand in front of our television at 9am for something she announces to be “the nations PE lesson.” Right on cue, some bloke appears on screen who is so obviously carefree and cheery he reeks of being childless and I hate him instantly. He has a smug smile and a six pack and announces PE with Joe!
His enthusiasm has no place before midday.
But then I figure that it might not be a bad thing. I even smile. Let the kids can jump around and tire themselves out - I have thirty minutes spare time here – enough to desperately search Twitter for news of the return of live sport! The wife’s a genius…
Okay, all you parents are joining in, this is good for you too! This is getting us all motivated and up for our day!’ says the childless Essex bastard. I look up from my phone. My two children are facing forward but grinning back at me like that woman on the exorcist when she runs up the wall. My wife’s already started the warm up. No way I’m getting out to this.
Thirty minutes later and I’ve shed a layer of clothing, most of a hangover and the girls respect for me has dwindled even further when a certain type of hop seems to force wind from me on every landing. They counted seven in a row. I was secretly well impressed with that. The wife was not.
The six year old quietly opens a window.
Physical activity appears to be the new way to go about things. My wife’s adult conversation with other actual adults also included discussion around the importance of puncturing a child’s learning with physical activities at different points in the day. So after every lesson we are out in the garden throwing basketballs at a hoop as part of a light, family competition. The girls have a go – three each - the wife next and I can start to see the benefits. Out in the sunshine, everyone cheering and smiling. No signs of any fat, useless bees.
My go comes. My first throw skews off the rim to strike the six year old cleanly and firmly in the face. The next goes in the net but then straight down to bounce off the base and into a bush to strike and terrify the kitten, who runs off and we haven’t seen him since. This prompts the girls to cry solidly for almost an hour as he probably ran out in front of a car! My assurance that there are aren’t really any cars on our road and that he’s probably just panicked and now totally lost does nothing to ease their upset.
I decline the third go. I’m aware we have elderly neighbours and I seem to be on a roll. They have enough to contend with right now, no way they need the added issue of my balls in their face.
I run a lesson later in the day. My wife hovers at the back. Suddenly I reckon I know what it’s like to be a proper teacher when them audit people are in from Ofsted. Suddenly I can’t swear, make threats (even the subtle ones where you just happen to be using a knife to point out their incorrect answer and suggesting they get it right next time) or make that face at them where you push your tongue behind your bottom lip and make an er sound. Or even occasionally swig at my bottle of get-me-through-the-day rum.
The Ofsted-like report from my wife at the end of the teach gives the rating: requires improvement, which I feel is a little harsh. Still, it hasn’t been a terrible day – seven in a row!
The cat comes back. He gives me a knowing smile, is licking his lips and smells of someone else’s house. B@stard.
(The picture below is Isobel showing her working as part of her maths work:)
Day TWO has a similar start. Bleary eyes, confusion. Wind passing. Josie’s appearance however now comes without the assurance that I am the best teacher ever, she has already moved on to a more let’s just get through this type attitude. If day ONE achieved nothing else it was effective in setting expectations.
My Amazon panic buy from the previous day arrives early. I find it dropped on my doorstep with the delivery driver pointing at it from the safety of Dover. I live in Folkestone. He also looks terrified, like I have arrived at the door holding an axe.
I realise then that I have arrived at the door holding an axe. Day ONE has me heading into a new school day feeling defensive.
The delivery is a t-shirt printed with the slogan ‘I JUST DON’T KNOW OKAY!’ so now I have something to point at when my voice is nothing but a dried rasp from repeating this sentence a million times before 10am.
‘DADDY!’ I hear from behind me. I turn to my two girls, their hair falling over their nightwear like something from Village of the Damned. ‘What are we doing today that’s fun!?’ they say in perfect unison.
I point at the t-shirt.
The eight year old rolls her eyes. ‘Let’s put the kettle on for you shall we?’ She then gently leads me through to the kitchen like she’s found me outside at 4am, confused, in slippers and having forgotten how to get home.
I sit down at the table. The workbooks and exercises for today are laid out. The first question mentions Dienes. Suddenly I am confused, in slippers and I have forgotten how to get home.
We all get dressed and ready for school then wave the wife off to work. I also mouth HELP but she still leaves. She’s even smiling. The bitch.
Maths is my first lesson and is a heady mix of long division. I used to be able to do long division. The spike in my confidence lasts moments. Some utter b@stard has changed all the rules. The instructions tell me that division is now done in a bus stop. I google bus stop method, then watch a four minute Youtube video hosted by an American woman who’s glee at teaching children and general cheerfulness makes me want to include her in my next novel - and no one ever finds the body. She performs her long division bus stop method to an audience of three primary school children. They are also ridiculously happy and attentive and in a future novel their bodies will not be found either. The tutor uses an example of fluffy little sheep in a pen to work out a problem. Not once does she refer to them as just ‘sheep,’ they need to be ‘fluffy little sheep’ every bastard time. This makes me angrier than it should. Come the end of the tutorial the three five year olds are fluent in division using the bus stop method and they all cheer and announce that they are off to bake cookies. The video ends. I am still far from fluent. I do not cheer and now the Village of the Damned want to bake f@cking cookies.
The afternoon is ‘free-play’ so we head out into the garden. Isobel plays a game where I am told to be a winged horse. She becomes visibly and instantly upset when I say ‘so a Pegasus, yeah?’
‘NO! They don’t have a HORN!’ then she screams in the horror I would only expect if she had found her Christmas presents on fire. So now I have to make it up to her. I do this by really throwing myself into the role and soon I am circling her at full gallop, my main catching in the breeze, even chucking in a little whinny. She is not impressed. I ask why. She says ‘you’re not flying like you have hooves! You’re supposed to be a horse!’
I don’t know how to fly like I have hooves.
I now have to consider a mime that incorporates the hooves specifically. The result is a jerky movement similar to when I spilt a fizzy drink on my bare foot and it attracted three wasps at the same time.
This is the moment my spaniel chooses to arch his back in the middle of the garden and defecate onto what was apparently the ‘base.’ I did not know it was the base. Nor do I know what the base is for. Now she announces that the ground is lava and I am burnt and out of the game. I am still not sure what game we are playing. I say this and Isobel is now so upset that she runs to her bedroom.
I pick up the poop (in a bag). It is far warmer than I anticipated and I consider that must be because the ground is lava. I look around for someone to share this observation with but it’s just me, my feet still scrunched up like hooves in backless slippers, stood in the middle of my empty garden, the day’s “artwork” stretching out in the breeze and I have suddenly never felt more locked in, maybe forever... and holding hot poop.
In the distance I can see a bus stop. I swear at it.
Day ONE. Josie, the eight year old, is up early. She bounces into our room, wakes me, watches me sit up bleary-eyed, confused, sweary and passing wind and announces that she thinks ‘you’re going to be the best teacher ever!’ She then bounces off, calling out ‘can I wear school uniform!?’
Isobel is six. She is up much later. She is my kindred spirit. Mornings are for morning people, not people like us. Due to there being a war on and the rest of the population seemingly thinking they need to have cupboards stocked like they are running a cash-and-carry, breakfast for Isobel is a defrosted hot dog roll with marmite. It hasn’t quite defrosted. It does nothing to improve her mood.
Josie is bouncing up and down in front of a panic purchase that I completed the moment that dog from the Churchill adverts announced the schools were to close – a flipchart. Complete with a new pack of pens. I’m not sure there’s anything better than a new pack of pens. I tell my wife this. The look she gives me tells me that she knows she won the lottery when it comes to husbands.
Then she goes to work. This leaves just me, two children and silence. I have never felt so intimidated.
I have no idea what to do with the flipchart so I write ‘MR DADDY’ and tell the girls that I am their new teacher. I wait for the laughter. There is no laughter. Josie’s enthusiasm for me as the best teacher ever is already visibly ebbing away with every passing moment and Isobel is watching her breakfast; despite the first lesson from me being that ‘a watched roll never defrosts.’ Tough crowd.
9am sharp and we start work. Teacher’s have provided work books with exercises. Maths is first. The teacher has also provided a contact phone number should we need any assistance with the work set.
‘They’re primary school kids!’ I scoff and fling the printed phone number into the bin.
Josie’s first question is for her to cross out the Dienes that are not needed to represent the number 162.
I do not know what a Diene is. Nor do I know how a number is ‘represented’ in this context. My panic is audible in the form of a whimper and then one of those high-pitched farts like someone’s loosened a tight grip on the neck of a balloon.
9:01am and already all sense of poise is lost as I am scrabbling in a bin in front of two bemused/disgusted children, only to emerge holding a piece of paper up to the sunlight to try and make out the digits of the teacher’s mobile number that has now been almost entirely consumed by tea stains. I am her fourth call. The girls are still looking for where the balloon went.
One question done, the next one would have made just as much sense to me if it were communicated by banging a wok… it reads: Kangaroos have two legs and zebras have four legs. A zoo keeper counts 22 legs altogether. How many kangaroos and zebras could there be?
What sort of a c##t just counts the f##king legs!?
‘Pardon daddy?’ Said the youngest.
We move on to a question that is basically 22 minus 12. The answer is ten. I know this. My confidence is building. I know an answer! Josie is upset. She is upset because she thought it was 11. That’s okay, I say, it’s okay to be wrong that is how we learn. ‘But it is 11,’ she insists. Now she is angry. I think she is angry at me, like normally her teachers are better, like normally they know what a Diene is, they don’t rummage through a bin for the answers to simple questions while emitting wind sounds and they know that 22 minus 12 equals 11. I use a calculator. I don’t need to, I know what 22 minus twelve is but this makes Josie angrier. She sees me checking my own sanity on the calculator and says, ‘well if you’re not sure, how are we supposed to be?’ She then storms off. I don’t know how to feel, just that it’s my fault.
The school day stumbles to an end with English where I am nearly in fist fight with a six year old about why Pyjamas are not spelt like Iguana and read is the same as read but different to red and also to reed... This is the ninth time I have said it just is, okay! But the first time while holding a small serrated knife. I am feeling threatened and backed into a corner.
My wife returns home from work and I find it hard to adapt. She tidies up her own shoes so I give her a sticker.
Day ONE done... Feels like week ONE...