“Yes, I’m actually really appreciating this time,” replied Polly as she pulled on protective gloves. Clad in lycra, with her hair pulled back from her face by a pink bandana, she had an air of “I’ve been for a run and I’m still a bit sticky” about her. I’d been on an unsuccessful hunt for large baking potatoes and found Polly waiting to let me pass as I left the Co-op. She looked well.
“It’s just nice to have the space to get things sorted and to, well, you know, rest. Slow down a bit. It’s good,” she went on. I was pleased for her and enjoyed the positivity exuding from her every pore.
The idea of rest and slowing down did appeal, coming as it did after a work week that was the complete opposite. I’d been to a symposium in Westminster many moons ago at the time when the educational world was revamping its approach to the teaching of information and communication technology in schools. Business leaders had spotted that the UK was likely to lose its economic place at the forefront of the gaming world and, in usual flinch and react mode, the Government was rolling out a new IT curriculum to ensure we had a workforce ready for, and leading, an increasingly technological globe.
In the symposium, the conversation was hogged by those merchandising their ideas and products alongside various politicians and, sitting near the back, I felt somewhat frustrated by the worship being offered to the world of computing and software. The 100 or so of us attending from around the UK had an opportunity for Q & A at the end of the day and I inadvertently managed to bring their conversation to a complete halt by asking ‘Should technology be our servant or our master?”. The panel huffed, mmmed and pphawed their way through looking for a response but I didn’t get an answer and the microphone was swiftly passed elsewhere. It dawned on me that I’m maybe not the best person to be involved on Question Time. But I digress.
Unlike Polly, I’ve been flat out at work with marking and conversations. And my leisure space has resumed some semblance of an original and rather full timetable too. All have been facilitated by a raft of devices in my study and living room and a last-minute upgrade to fibre broadband.
My tech has allowed me to mark 3000 word assignments and upload feedback through an online portal. I joined a Skype virtual coffee break with colleagues for a half hour chat and catch up and then ran a trainee tutorial using the same software. So, yes, I still have to get dressed for work, at least the top half anyway.
The student is currently on placement and is working with her class teacher to create learning resources and activities that can be uploaded to the class website for children to engage with at home. We talked through how to support parents and carers who are in the middle of it and the best way to deploy her TA who is champing at the bit to be virtually involved too. She was buzzing and it was wonderful to see her expressions change before me as we threw ideas around.
Emailing and phone calls have moved into a slightly different dimension with conversations becoming more relaxed and less task based. I’ve laughed with a colleague who had his wife on lockdown in the spare room with antibiotics whilst his three boys fought over the last 3 fish fingers and a packet of leeks in the freezer. He was looking forward to the day when she could emerge butterfly-like from her cocoon and he could go of in search of chocolate.
I was inspired by another teacher colleague who, whilst on front line support to a husband holed up in the study bunker coordinating the county’s response to the crisis, is also keeping her elderly parents in food supplies, her children fed and her class educated with online lesson resources. Another of our students is proving to be worth her weight in gold in working alongside her at this time.
A London colleague brought me to my knees as we chatted over the phone about students he needed to extend assignment deadlines for as a result of Covid-19. He knew their stories of the new calls on their time caring for themselves or loved ones. You could hear the pride and surprise too in his voice as he explained how his wife was now being waved and smiled at whenever she left the hospital she worked in.
I get to the end of a workday wondering where the time has gone yet full of some wonderfully good things.
I have had just enough time to create supper before the next phase of virtual engagement begins. Video conferencing has brought singing practice, a shim sham dance rehearsal, a study of prophets with church friends from around the villages and a writing webinar from California into my living room each night this week. And where would I be without YouTube and Friday night’s performance of Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat or WhatsApp video chats with Dad?
My tech kit, invariably chatted over with Jonathan who always brings a quicker way of doing something with it, has served me well this week, allowing me to work and stay sane and connected But what I am also very proud of is the fact that I am part of a community that has educated these generations of hardware and software developers who have now served me through the fruit of their labours and created things that, at the time, I had no idea I was going to need. After 18 months with my current phone, I’ve also finally discovered the video editing software on it that allows me to share a walk as a film with friends.
Education is highlighted by UNESCO as the silver bullet that will reduce and maybe eradicate world poverty. In the career world it has lost ground to the dazzling money rich opportunities elsewhere. But our schools, alongside the family unit, are where we as society begin. They are the birthplace and nursery of scientists, medics, carers, teachers, policy makers, advocates, infrastructure dreamers and builders, growers, fighters, protectors, drivers and those who’s abilities to clean up our messes put my housekeeping to shame. It’s where visions are created and shared and our cultures understood and fostered. All of these essential services have, for decades, sat low down Priti Patel’s economical value chain until Covid-19 turned our world upside down and we now see Rishi Sunak finally confirming what we’ve always known – their true worth. The Treasury and Home Office should talk more often maybe, rather than just in a crisis? No wonder we are called to pray for those in government.
This weekend coincides with Palm Sunday. It commemorates the day when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover. The Jewish people were in a heightened state of anticipation as to his visit, believing that He would overturn their Roman oppressors and free them, in much the same way as Moses and the Israelites had been rescued from Egypt.
The news of his impending arrival had spread and crowds gathered with palms which would have symbolised rejoicing, triumph and victory. They were expectant and I wonder what the mood was like when the rumour Mexican waved through the throng that He had arrived on a donkey? Would the shouts of Hosanna, or Saviour, begin to fade? The Jews had wanted a knight in shining armour to ride in and up to the palace to clear out the current regime. What they got was a man on a donkey’s colt who instead turned to the temple. The symbolism was clear; He came in peace but he also came on business.
The evening’s local news may have had some interesting headlines and social media that week would have gone onto overdrive. One of his first jobs was not to clear out the palace but to cleanse the temple and we glimpse here his fury.
“My house shall be called the house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves” he yells as he throws out the money lenders and changers and sellers of doves.
As Holy Week unfolded, Jerusalem saw a world being turned on its head and something new brought forth.
Our new normal is not dissimilar. Our lives are being cleared of the unnecessary and filled instead with a new perspective. Jesus’ ministry on earth was one of healing and a restoration of our relationship with God the Father in whose image we are made. Those services listed earlier will resonate deeply with those who parent and care and who demonstrate daily the ability to heal, teach, nurture, advocate, offer diplomatic solutions, fight, protect, drive and clean, all invariably in the space of a few minutes. Many who move into those careers talk of them as a vocation, a calling and they are indeed a place of being. I am a teacher. I am a doctor. I am a policeman. I am a carer. They are roles that echo with the Father heart of God and you will always find Him there, in the mix on the front line, guiding, protecting, encouraging and mourning. It is where He has always been and will always be.
Our saviour is therefore not in the business world or the economy. Rather He is in and around those who oil the wheels of community and bring life out of death. The Covid-19 issue is, truth be told, small fry compared with the real healing crises in this world. In a UK population of 67.8 million souls there are currently (as of 4th April) approx. 42 000 sufferers with the virus. 367 000 new cancer cases are diagnosed every year, that’s 1000 a day, and we have 3.9 million folk suffering with type 2 diabetes which is, in the main, preventable. 850 000 people have dementia and this will rise by 209 600 this year. Coronavirus may well be the best thing that ever happened to us if, in its battle, we discover the more within us to win those wars we will continue to face long after it has gone.
If we maintain focus.
The UK governments have finally got their fingers out and restored, in one month, 50% of hospital beds lost over the last 10 years. I hope they keep the Nightingales, which will no doubt be required for the baby boom from Christmas, and re-site the various exhibition centres in newly redundant airport terminal buildings. Front liners know how to pack a workday into 24 hours. Can we learn from that efficiency and pack a 5 day week into 4, thereby releasing us into a three day weekend where we can continue with the gardening, baking, meditating, family time, exercise and book reading habits, amongst others, that we have developed. Oh yes and more time to socially unisolate too, using all methods of communication we have at the tips of our fingers. Will business and economic vision involve seeking to serve the planet rather than their pockets and will global governments finally invest in life without being pushed?
Our world may have been turned upside down but I’m beginning to wonder if we’re now actually the right way up.