Where did that go

Where did that go? Where did the summer holidays go. For so many families, where did that lockdown go? That’s 7 weeks of summer and exactly 6 months of lockdown.

We leave the summer holidays like we found them. Grey.

Many leave the lockdown as we found it. Well actually that’s sadly not strictly true here in the UK. The daily rise in pandemic and the rate of spread (R number) is actually higher now than when it forced us all into lockdown. I guess the confusion is the same. Some times it’s safe to meet in groups then at other times it’s considered most unsafe. Sometimes masks are required, sometimes they are not. Get tested but please don’t get tested. It’s safe to meet work colleagues but most unsafe to meet friends and family. There are those in high risk groups but you don’t need to worry about that. You must observe 2m social distancing but it’s ok if you don’t especially in pubs and at Horse Racing events. Don’t worry about the details it will be fine.

But for some families and households, the lockdown is most certainly not over. The Government seems to be demonising those in that position. We are being unpatriotic. Not doing our civic duty. Letting others down. As a result support is being pulled, threats made, blamed for the problems of the country and fines starting to be issued. I can assure the so called Government that it’s not out of choice. We are dealing with the reality of life. And that life is messy, complicated, unpredictable and frustrating. We have to deal with the details.

That part of life has not changed during the summer holidays and lockdown.

What could have been

Sometimes you get those moments when you just sigh. Sigh and think – what could have been. Now I could go down many routes with that thought. But today while watching a sunset flicker into life my mind was in schooling mode.

A fruitless day with school and the education authorities. Does look like support will be minimal going forward. The message is that if you can’t start back at school next week then it’s the parents responsibility to keep your child in line with classroom progress until they return. Suddenly the parent becomes curriculum specialist and teacher. I guess the hope is your child returns to school quick enough that they don’t fall too far behind. But what happens if it’s not a quick return.

We have a medical letter informing school that because of his severe anxieties and fears our son cannot currently return to school. No timescale has been set. Son has mentioned the end of October as a goal. The start of the next term. If that was the case then it’s 7 weeks of trying to keep up with the classroom teaching. But that’s just a finger in the air date. We have no idea when he will be in a position to return to the cramped classrooms. The first goal is to try and get him into a less anxious place. Then it’s to see if he can start venturing out into the wider world. Then we move into trying to get son more comfortable being inside with other people. Only then when he is more comfortable with life, can we consider a return to school. I’m not sure our PM or Education Secretary actual realise that to truly learn you need to be in a good place. Content, relaxed and comfortable. Actually they probably do realise this but they just don’t care. In their eyes it’s all about set teaching approaches, targets and discipline. Anxieties about a pandemic are brushed aside – schools are perfectly safe – no risk at all – force them back into cramped out of date classrooms – trust us or we force you back. Not ideal learning environments, a nightmare for those suffering from anxieties and fears.

But it didn’t have to be like this. Speaking with the school there was another way. School has introduced a very good homeschooling online system. It worked during the lockdown. The plan was from September that most pupils would only spend 50% of their time in school. Apart from those with exams, pupils would spend part of the week at home doing remote learning. That would allow school to further spread pupils out and create enhanced social distancing. Great plan but the government has dictated that all pupils must return full time. So the online schooling system has been turned off. So a potential route to help those pupils who are unable or uncomfortable about returning is not available. A method of helping a number of pupils to keep up, to learn and to avoid them being disadvantaged has been ended by the Government.

That’s a lot of school weeks that we have to navigate and try to stay in touch with his classmates. It’s going to be a real challenge. And it just won’t be our family in this position. Much sighing. Might as well enjoy the sunset.

Monday

Got to just follow a trail. Hope it leads in the right direction.

So the school reopens a week today. Most kids will return. Some won’t. Our son will not be able to return at this stage. How long will he be out of school. Weeks, months, permanently – no idea. So we have to work on the assumption that he will return at some stage. So with minimal help from school and nothing from the authorities, who do we try to keep him on track with his classmates. To ensure that if and when he does return that he has not fallen behind.

The plan is to get the class timetable from school. That will form the basis of the learning each day. We won’t stick to the class timings but will try to focus on covering the subject matter. First call will be any lesson notes that are posted in the school system. Ensuring we do any work assignments that might be posted as well. I will ask each teacher to at least provide an indication of what topics will be covered and the copies of any handouts that are provided. Then it’s Dad trying to be teacher, looking for relevant videos and resources on the internet. All work completed will be emailed to each teacher at the end of the day. Any gaps we will make up with stuff son wants to cover.

If this school at home project extends further then I will supplement gaps with buying online teaching packages.

We are lucky that my work has basically dried up. Not much until 2021 at the earliest. The positive is that frees my time up to focus on being a teacher. Maybe I need to dress like a teacher?

That’s the plan. What could possibly go wrong.

Pokemon

Somebody is fascinated with looking into our garden. I wonder what the view is like?

2016. I keep coming back to that year. A lot of things happened then. It set the agenda for the following years. But I want to focus on one seemingly innocuous thing from that year.

We were visiting my mum in hospital on a daily basis. There was quite a bit of waiting around. That’s tough for an 8 year old. An 8 year old Aspie with ADHD. He needed distractions. My mobile phone and the games became that distraction. They would work for a few minutes before he grew restless. Then it happened.

I downloaded Pokemon Go. I had no idea what it was but it sounded cool. He loved Pokémon so what could go wrong. That was early July 2016. He was hooked. Suddenly he could happily wait. He could be distracted for hours. It helped keep him sane through the next few weeks of hell.

Four years later he is still playing the game. It is still working it’s magic. A stress buster. A challenge. An interest. A way of feeling part of a community. A sense of achievement. An easy way to keep beating his Dad.

Thank you Pokemon Go.

On one

You get days when you can just let the crashing waves of life wash over you. Serene in the knowledge that you are at one with the world. Accepting of the challenges and hurdles that lie ahead. Prepared to just put on the kettle, breathe, smile and then calmly deal with the issues facing you.

Then you get other days…..

Today is one of those days. I don’t like swearing. It’s not big or clever. But today

I’M SERIOUSLY PISSED OFF.

No serene model of self restraint. Much more Hulk Smash.

I was fine with the washing machine suddenly sounding like a pneumatic drill. Ok smashing another cup. Fine with the cat repeatedly missing his cat litter tray. Accepting of not feeling 100% today. But school and the education system today has got under my skin.

School have officially confirmed that they will not be able to provide any additional support if he is not able to start back at school. The online teaching system will be not available. No online lesson support. The only support will be that some basic class notes may be available after lessons on the school system. But these will be patchy and only for some lessons. This classroom notes facility has been in place for a year. In practice it’s a great idea however in practice very few teachers use the system. They stick to the white pen and marker pen approach. It was also confirmed that no dedicated teaching support would be provided. No home visits I can understand but no telephone or email support – really. The local council apparently would normally provide some support in these cases however that service has been reorganised and is not currently available. But apparently I’m supposed to ensure our son follows the curriculum so he doesn’t fall behind his class mates.

OK. So in practice I am none the wiser. Feels like we have been cast adrift but then expected to keep up with a rapidly receding school ship. It appears to me that school would be delighted to force us out and into full on homeschooling. But that’s not for me or the school to decide. That’s our Sons decision. One I will make sure he decides for himself.

So yes I am ON ONE. One step forward and then two back.

A thought

Wonder what these cows are thinking?

Hawklad has always loved listening and making stories up. One particular story line has been a common theme. We call it the Mr Mole Stories. It’s a world we’re talking animals live alongside humans. The story started back when Hawklad was a toddler. He was not the greatest of travellers and when he looked out of a moving train window – it was asking for trouble. It came to a head one particularly train journey. In a full carriage Hawklad decided to be sick. I took the full impact. Amazingly everywhere else was spared. I remember my walk of shame up the length of the crammed carriage to our suitcases. A now very distinctively marked black T-shirt needed changing urgently and wow did it stand out.

We needed a plan B as we soon had a long train journey from Geneva to Bern to navigate.

A plan was hatched. I would distract Hawklad with a story. A random story was told. A taking mole was walking down a street. He would happily talk to the various humans he would bump into. Problem was that Mr Mole had a spectacular sneeze. Tornado Force Sneeze. So when he did sneeze things happened. Clothes would be blown off washing lines. Cakes would fly through the air and hit people in the face. Umbrellas would take to the air. The poor postman even lost his trousers. Hawklad loved it – he nearly wet himself with giggles. For two hours Mr Moles sneezes caused increasing levels of mayhem. The Mr Mole Stories were born.

Since then the stories have moved on from sneezing to a self contained world filled with various weird animal characters. Over time the stories became increasingly Hawklads. He would help frame and tell the tales. Over the last 10 years I dread to think how many stories have been made. Hawklad can remember virtually all of them.

Last night was no different. A wild tale was told. Mr Mole with his friends Mr Cheetah and Olive the Ostrich we’re trying to explain wrestling to the legendary Mr Crocodile. A very special Crocodile. A vegetarian. He is scared of water. Actually scared of most things. A crocodile who finds most things confusing. A crocodile who does not always comply with the general laws of space, time and physics. A couple of actual wrestlers had been enrolled to help. Sasha Banks and The Undertaker.

Then the thought hit. We live in a world of over 7 billion people. With almost incalculable numbers of other living creatures. At that particular time. With such a bizarre story. Almost certainly we were the only 2 living creatures in the planet telling a story about talking mole, a mad crocodile and wrestling. Maybe the only 2 living creatures thinking those thoughts in the entire Universe.

That is such a cool thought. It really is.

Forgotten

Isn’t the human mind strange. Somethings you just can never forget. Hopefully mostly the really nice, beautiful and precious things. They are always on your mind and then other stuff just seems to instantly disappears. Not just stuff like ‘where I put my car keys’, ‘what did I put on my shopping list when it’s been left at home’ and ‘what on Earth was I thinking about when I decided to support Newcastle United’. Could be precious memories, important details and posts. I wrote a post in June and yes I forgot all about it. Poor thing just sat gathering dust in the draft folder. Well yesterday I remembered it.

Unfortunately some of the post is out of date now but at least one bit is still relevant. So here goes then. A few months late and heavily edited but I give you a forgotten post.

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So we have a few weeks left of homeschooling. Maybe more. Son’s anxieties are starting to mount. The government is committed to reopening the country at breakneck speed – have we really got the pandemic sufficiently under control. No sign of a vaccine. Just feels like the infection numbers will be back on the rise very soon. So maybe homeschooling will still be the option after the summer break.

As a family we have learned so much from the enforced school at home project. Most of these I have already mentioned. But one very large and ignored elephant is sat in the room. ZOOM.

All children are different. Unique. Surely the key to education is to look at each child and see what works for them. Unfortunately the UK approach is fast moving towards the production line education model. Labelled Victorian Values. One set curriculum, one set teaching method, try to minimise input costs, force all kids through the same hole and then try to carefully control the outputs. Variations are seen as very bad.

So when a teaching approach is adopted then it is forced on all pupils – even if it doesn’t suit them.

In terms of our son it’s clear that he functions best at homeschooling when he is given research to do, watch videos, complete online questions. He works in short bursts. Maybe 20 minutes max of concentration then a quick walk about or something to reset, then he goes again. The initial home at school approach allowed for this. So it worked. But that’s starting to change now. Lessons are increasingly going ZOOM. Online video conferencing classes. 80 minute lessons. Teacher and pupils sitting in front of a video camera. The teacher can see what every pupil is doing. The other pupils can sometimes see but always hear what their classmates are doing. Senior teachers are reviewing each class to check for inappropriate behaviour and lack of effort.

Now this approach will work for some pupils. But not all. Our son hates being filmed. He hates to see his image on a screen, he hates to hear his own voice coming out of the speakers. He cringes at the thought of other people being able to see him. Sitting still for 80 minutes is a significant challenge for him. In a class setting he won’t ask questions, won’t put his hand up. Will just freeze and be filled with anxieties. Basically ZOOM teaching is currently just about the worst teaching approach for him. It just won’t work. But that’s the set teaching method for some classes now. He just has to do it. His marks are lower in those classes. How can this be effective, modern teaching…..

2020 the year music stopped

2020 has been some year. Is it really only August. Time seems to have so slowed down. Many things have just stopped. Live Music most definitely.

Looking back to the start of the year it all seemed a bit different. We were looking forward to a fantastic concert year. I had worked my socks off and secured a whole list of discounted tickets. It was on paper a great year of gigs and some top bands.

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The Who

Whitesnake

Foreigner

Europe

Aerosmith

Wayward Sons

Ozzy

Saxon

Deep Purple

Blue Oyster Cult

Hollywood Vampires

Killing Joke

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On paper that’s how it will remain for this year. All cancelled some pushed into 2021. So yes something potentially to look forward to. BUT…….

Has the concert zone closed for us. It was always a delicate balance for Hawklad. His enjoyment of the music, the spectacle, a chance to see the bands he loves to listen to. Balanced against his social anxieties. His fears of strangers and crowds. The positives just outweighing the negatives. As a result he could get himself to concerts. Yes it would need his hoody pulled up until the lights went out. But he was ok doing that as he felt that rock crowds were easy going and accepting of all kinds of looks. This was confirmed on our first concert trip. Dad wore the most embarrassing T-shirt he could find. Hawklad was reassured to see that I didn’t get one single strange look and was never asked to leave.

But now it’s a different world. Hawklad definitely sees it differently. Heightened fears and anxieties. The ‘is it ok to attend concerts’ calculation he would perform has got a different answer now. The negatives outweigh the positives. I know the medical advice is that this new world view could become a semi permanent switch in his Aspergers. A dynamic which won’t automatically switch off when the pandemic finally goes. It may take years. May never switch back. We just don’t know.

So maybe that’s it for our concerts. If so then it’s kinda fitting that three of the last bands he got to see just happened to be his favourites. Alter Bridge, Kiss and Alice Cooper.

So let’s enjoy the memories. It might be the year Live Music stopped for us but it doesn’t mean that music has stopped. Most certainly not.

Perfect timing

A brief respite between storms. It’s summer you know.

As the rain from the storm kicks in the tumble dryer decides to go on strike. Perfectly timed as I have a load of bedding and clothes to dry – perfect timing. Suppose I could just go outside and throw them in the air and see what the jet stream will do to them. Central Europe – If you see some line green cycle shorts flying through the air, can I have them back please….

Then a few moments later I went outside to put the plastic garden chairs in a safe place – only to see one of the chairs flying tumbling over the fence and heading into the farmer’s field. Perfect timing. At least I know why we will be one chair down. Again Central Europe can you look out for a slightly dog chewed item of furniture heading at some rate in your general direction.

Don’t you love perfect timing.

The nurse counsellor garden appointment to see Hawklad has been rebooked for this week. To start the process of examining his anxieties which are effecting his life and preventing him from going into the wider world. The last visit was a perfect summers days but the nurse had to cancel at the last minute due to illness.

Well that’s the plan.

Looking at the weather forecast the garden appointment is scheduled to happen during Storm Francis. Expecting torrential rain and 70mph winds. Lovely garden weather – especially as we are perched on a hill with hardly any protection from the elements. The nurse is also not allowed to come into the house due to a current working restrictions. So I’ve got no idea what will happen.

Perfect timing.

School

The rain had cleared for a few moments. But some things are still unclear.

Hawklad is still to decide if he will go back to school on the 14th September. With all his anxieties any return will be so very tough for him. Maybe too tough. But ultimately it’s his call. I’ve let school know about the issues but they don’t seem to be proposing any accommodations for him. But I guess there are a few weeks to go.

The other thing I have raised is what happens if he is not able to return. Still registered with school but unable to attend classes. How would he keep up with the course work. Unfortunately the really good school online education system will be switched off. Switched off to encourage parents to send kids into school. The initial dialogue with the authorities seem to be – well if he doesn’t go back then tough – that’s your call. Your responsibility to arrange education until he returns to the classroom. Thats the approach being set by the government. Online school tuition will only be switched back on if the school is forced to close again.

So many things to think about. But one clear message from the Government. Send your kid into school or you won’t be getting any help from the system. In fact schools will be expected to fine parents for keeping kids off. Could be a stormy few months.