Wednesday 2 September 2015

Rejoice! School's back from summer!

Today is a true red letter day in the Hann household. Festal garments will be worn, jigs danced, barrels broached and bells rung.

Because where I live this is the first day of the autumn school term.

Newspapers are missing a trick. Girls jumping for joy about their A-levels could be matched by yummy mummies leaping outside primary schools on the first day of term.

I do feel a bit mean about my elation. I may be old, but I still remember the intense resentment I used to feel as a child about the constant bombardment of “back to school” advertisements, which seemed to begin the day after we broke up.

I don’t remember being a massive amount of trouble to my parents during the holidays. But then people were much more relaxed about leaving young children on their own in those days, despite the much greater number of dangers abounding in the average house, from open fires and floor level gas taps to dodgy wiring, mousetraps and mangles.

I grew up in a house built in 1939, but it still had a coal-fired range like this.

I remember that I read a lot, once I had mastered that skill, and was able to wander off and play with other kids in the street.

Sadly my children aren’t growing up in that sort of suburban community and, if they did just wander out of the front door as I used to do, they would stand a high chance of being mown down by a speeding car.

So, despite a panoply of entertainment I never even dreamt of at their age, from DVDs to iPads, they are bored. And, in the case of my elder, worried about the return to school and the move to a new class.

Throw in a slug of separation anxiety and a touch of paranoia about people being locked in rooms and unable to escape, and you have the perfect recipe for days spent “working at home” while keeping an eye on my son being transformed into a living hell.

Last summer we had relatively few problems. On the days when Mum and Dad were both working, the boy went happily enough either to an out-of-school club at his old nursery, or a rather wonderful project in the local forest.

There he climbed trees, made dens, and crafted catapults and peashooters like a child from an Arthur Ransome novel, returning home each night filthy, exhausted and elated.

The deep dark wood

But the organisers decided not to repeat it this summer because they had had a bellyful of Elfin Safety, the requirement for an OFSTED inspection and the plethora of rules we put in place in the name of child protection.

While the nursery out-of-school club holds no attractions because all of his old friends have moved on elsewhere.

The only good thing that has come out of my summer of occasional childcare is the realisation of how incredibly lucky I am in having an office to which I can escape. Never again will I sit behind my desk thinking, like a six year old, that I am bored. Or wishing, like a 60-odd year old, that I could retire.

Never happier

Retirement may present a fine vision of regular ocean cruises and beach holidays, sipping pina coladas as the tropical sun goes down. But the reality for most is eking out a meagre pension, worrying about their deteriorating health, and looking after the grandchildren who are dumped on them during the school holidays while their parents enjoy a quiet day at the office.

Or for that matter at the building site, coke works, scrapyard or glass bottle production line, all of which would offer more restful environments than my house did last week.

Years ago I knew a chief executive who was made redundant when his business was taken over. His wife did not read the business pages so he continued putting on his suit, leaving the house at the usual time and driving around until he felt able to go home.

At the time I thought he was barking mad. Now I realise that he most probably had young children, and I understand exactly where he was coming from.

I have taken a vow that by summer 2016 I will have identified a suitable holiday club for seven year olds, even if I have to found and fund it myself. Failing that I shall be seeking a quiet refuge for myself in a suitable old folks’ home.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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