My Virtual School – £3 for a cabbage

12 May 2020. A panic-striking email this morning: your network password expires today, reset your password to continue to access everything you need. Instructions on the helpdesk webpage. Instructions say I can only do this from the computer on my desk at work. Network password controls email, email controls zoom. Life is run on email. Sanity depends on zoom. Desktop computer is locked inside inaccessible building. Password expires TODAY. Briefly consider whether life could actually continue just via Twitter. Helpdesk Heroes to the rescue. Possibly the most essential workers the school has. Password reset by remote. And breathe.

Lock-down restrictions are easing. Longer journeys are allowed. And the housing market is restarting.  One friend (an estate agent) has suggested putting her own house on the market so that she can book her family in to view it. No other way to see said family but strangers can potentially be shown around the house. Those who have bought new homes can begin to arrange removals. A couple of visits to our new home to draw up lists of maintenance work before we move in. Small independent building trades are keen to get back to work but anxious how to do this. All we contact will only work in unoccupied houses. Good for us. Long chat about flooring with a carpenter. Electrician due out on Monday. Need to find a decorator. Then need to check when the curtain-maker we like will be back to work. What is very unclear is when we can get to shops to choose light fittings, paint colours, fabrics – online shopping doesn’t answer all questions.

Meeting our new neighbours in the small village. People call out hello from gardens. Some pop out of their houses to greet us across the street. One offers newspaper deliveries. Another invites us to a BBQ – ‘when all this is over.’

The gastro pub in the village is closed but has set up a take-away service – looks scrumptious. Also has a notice about the village shop. Good news. We didn’t think there was a village shop. No village shop in sight. Stop to ask two women sitting chatting in their respective front gardens. No village shop. Just a temporary one at the pub while the virus lasts. And not recommended – ‘all fancy breads and 50p for a carrot. They charge £3 for a cabbage!’ – my witty quip about getting serious with cabbage-cooking not received with approval.

The big debate is when schools will go back. Government has said 1 June for some primary years  – IF…. Horror on all fronts. NEU up in arms. The Union has been up in arms for weeks – first demanding that schools be closed, then demanding that teachers don’t teach online, and clearly out of contact with what is happening in the independent sector.  And a lot of teachers angry at the language of ‘closure’ – no schools are ‘closed.’ At our school, discussions on how to hold a parents’ meeting and for which years? A Virtual Open Day for prospective pupils happened a week or so ago. And one of the boys has challenged everyone to a lock-down photography competition. But it looks like we won’t be back until September and the next half of this term will be a long, hard slog.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community,  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – the next stage

10 May 2020. Things are moving forward. An announcement by the Prime Minister this evening. Variously interpreted. Mostly bafflement. Are we out of lock-down? No. Stay home, stay safe. Can we go out? Yes. Now that the glorious summer weather has broken we can picnic in the park. But only in family or household groups. Not sure how we prove that? Carry a utility bill and/or DNA testing kit and/or marriage license/ birth certificate at all times? Exercise more. But don’t play team games except with your immediate family. Cricket for 3, anyone? Can we go to work? Yes, if you can’t work from home. No, if it is not safe to do so. Who decides? Reasonable you or your totally unreasonable boss? What are the penalties? And go to work without using public transport. Ideally walk or cycle. OK – just 25 miles in the rain …

But this news, whatever it is, has been welcomed by many of the small, self-employed businesses we deal with. Within minutes a flurry of Facebook messages. We can now get the dog walked, the plumbing fixed, the house deep-cleaned and celebrate it all with a magnificent cake. We can also exercise more than once a day. Not welcomed by one friend who flatly refuses to do any more exercising than she has been doing – – what with the 5-10 km daily walks, the 2 hour zoom pilates, and the online high-impact aerobics. Just lucky she has such a large lounge and the children have left home.

Good news for us because now we might be able to find a decorator, carpenter, electrician who can come out to do essential maintenance on the house we have just bought. House buying is a fraught process at the best of times. COVID-19 and lock-down have not made it any less stressful. Unlike many, many others whose sales and purchases have fallen through, along with their mortgage offers, we exchanged contracts the week before lock-down. But in the weeks since we have watched the fall of the stock markets; the potential crash of the world economy; worried about banks failing; attempted to manage large mounts of money via telephone banking with bank staff working from home who haven’t read all the emails about pro-tem procedures; imagined our own difficulties in signing vital documents from possible ITU beds while on ventilators; imagined our vendor in lock-down for 12 weeks unable to move out; not entirely sure how she did move out; been told by our removers that they will not consider anything before mid-May, even June; watched everyone about us indulging in an orgy of DIY and gardening while we could do nothing. Completion day was definitely a limp rag day.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community,  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – contrails

9 May 2020. The 75th anniversary of VE Day yesterday. Big rows today about street parties, socially distanced conga lines, breaking lock-down etc, etc. Various friends had afternoon tea-parties with the neighbourhood all sitting on their drives or in front gardens eating scones and jam, with bunting. One friend joined in with the nationwide bagpiping at 3pm, standing in his street in full highland kit. He appeared a few minutes later dressed in 18th century costume as the town crier – another nationwide initiative. Just around the corner from him, the standard bearer for the local British Legion, also properly attired for the occasion, performed the last post ceremony, lowering the banner to the ground in mourning during the two minutes silence, on his drive. Both of them filmed on phones and posted on  social media for the rest of us to share.

I like this kind of  sharing. Very comfortable. Apparently 52% of those recently polled have watched some form of religious service online – something for churches to think about seriously when this is all over.

At school, people stood where they were for the two minutes silence. One young family were at the War Memorial, reading the names for WW2. Odd not to do such a thing centrally.

School has now reached the exeat weekend. This usually coincides with the first May bank holiday but this year the bank holiday was moved nationally to Friday. So now for those of us who no longer know what day of the week it is we can take comfort that this week Friday was last Monday. So virtual school is on holiday for a few days – definitely taking a break from having no one there. After four weeks of online teaching, sport, music, drama, cocoa, cooking, reading challenges, concerts, quizzes, pastoral care, it’s going OK. Starting to utilise more advanced parts of Microsoft teams including break-out sessions for classes to work in small groups. And getting parents and Old Radleians to share in some of the challenges and activities.

The meadow grasses on the golf course are a purple haze, with bright spots of long-stemmed buttercups among them. Today I saw the first wild rose opening. And high above us an unfamiliar sight and sound – the contrail of a plane. Almost an assault upon the birdsong and the purity of the deep blue sky.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community,  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – bunting

7 May 2020. Bunting is appearing on houses and across streets ready for the 75th anniversary of VE Day tomorrow. One garden wall near us has been decorated with bunting drawn in chalk for its entire length. Must have taken ages. At least a day – wasn’t there when we walked the dog past there two nights ago.

Tonight was another Thursday Clap for Carers at 8pm evening. Here a single bell tolls to signal the start and continues throughout until it is the last sound. Can’t work out where it is coming from. All the churches are locked and entry for any activity is banned. I have been reading an impassioned Twitter argument between various organists all separated from their organs and unable to practice. Quite a bit of civil unrest brewing among the organ grinding community. One or two threatening to do it anyway!

In our street people pop their heads out of their front doors to see who else is there; spend time chatting nonchalantly in case they looked eager; wave a bit, and then, by mutual agreement, clap as loudly as possible. No saucepans, fireworks, bagpipes or heavy metal performances. But certainly a moment of solidarity.

Listening to my father-in-law on the radio today for the VE Day celebrations. He spoke of D-Day. At 19 he commanded a flotilla of landing craft. As he guided his little boats into Utah Beach he heard a strange noise behind him. It was the full complement of crew and soldiers on an American battleship cheering them on. Next day, his was the first Royal Navy ship back into Plymouth harbour and the same noise greeted him. The people of Plymouth lined up along the docks and the shoreline – cheering. He choked in the telling – ‘that was the most emotional moment of the war.’

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community,  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – awakenings

5 May 2020. I won an online photography competition last week. The winner sets the next challenge so I spent a while trying to think of a topic for these times. ‘Hope’ was set a few weeks ago, so that was out. Trying to decide on something upbeat? something meaningful? something totally unrelated to anything that’s happening? something that might be interpreted as dark? I wish now that I had pinched another friend’s # ‘Love in the time of coronavirus’. But I didn’t. Settled on ‘awakenings’ because that was a general feeling in the air. At least it was a few days ago. And open to multiple interpretations.

All this week BBC Radio Stoke are running a series of interviews with my father-in-law. At 96 he is reminiscing about his experiences in WW2 as part of their VE Day celebrations. First as a young teenager in London in the Blitz – ‘we were just worried it would all be over before we got a chance to join in’. Then into the Royal Navy at 18, serving on minesweepers in the Firth of Forth – ‘better than a gap year.’ On to commanding landing craft on D-Day and then the push through Europe.

His first response when told he and my mother-in-law must stay in lock-down for 12 weeks to avoid COVID-19 was that it can’t be as bad as D-Day – ‘at least nobody is shooting you.’ The two of them have sourced food delivery companies and are managing to walk their dog. Three other friends in their 90s have set up house together and are planning to take part in a quiz night via zoom. All of them remember bombings, rationing, an uncertain future and the deaths of many friends and family when they were children and teenagers. My own father’s family was bombed out five times. I saw a piece online about all that children are suffering now in lock-down – all the fears, anxieties, unanswered questions, the disruption to schooling, not seeing friends, not playing outside… it went on and on and finished with the claim that they are the real heroes of our time for putting up with it all. Maybe that should be an awakening.

At school, the Geology Dept have gone viral on Twitter for a lesson about earthquakes using a beer glass. Really imaginative teaching. And the climbing roses have come into full bloom.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community,  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – competitions

3 May 2020. The stags have been barking in the woods each night for a couple of weeks now. Scares the living daylights out of the dog. Afraid he might be mistaken for a willing doe. Tonight the deer could clearly see us, he was so close to the road. He stopped his mating call when we erupted from a side street with dog straining at the leash. Then started again, louder and more aggressive when it was clear we were not his competition.

All over the world there are reports of wildlife becoming less timid as there are fewer people around. We have had closer encounters than usual with muntjac and foxes on our walks. Two hedgehogs snuffling together near the roses. In Haifa the wild boar have been shepherding their piglets through the streets. Dolphins frolicking in the Bosphorus shipping lanes. And the mountain goats of Llandudno became celebrities a few weeks ago. Other animals are apparently missing people. An aquarium in Japan has been calling for video interactions for their pining eels, while a zoo in the US has been introducing land and water animals to each other – apparently dolphins and sloths get on really well.

At school we have our first virtual sports fixture – a triwizard rowing competition against Shiplake and Hampton over 3 days. Believe it involves quite a lot of running and very little water. Discussions about the physical return to school have been tackling the issue of sport – rugby is off limits, but cricket is past master of social distancing so may be our preferred sport if we are back in September.

The birdsong has been beautiful. Larks soaring above the empty golf course. I can’t help thinking that it’s wasted on the golfers.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community,  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – 40 days

2 May 2020. For the third week in a row there is a moratorium on work emails for the weekend. From Saturday lunch time until Monday morning, a blessed silence (almost). I hear that it is really welcomed by the whole school – time away from screens (theoretically) and from a sense of having to keep up with everything all the time.

I feel the relief myself, even while on furlough. Keeping in touch is encouraged but email-checking is an insidious background nag. A catchphrase of the time is ‘furlough-envy’: those who are trying to work from home whilst juggling children, pets, lock-down shopping, dodgy internet connections and so forth are apparently consumed with envy for those who are on an open-ended paid ‘holiday’. Free to read books, do jigsaws, watch entire box-sets on Netflix, bake endless cakes (with invisible flour), walk the dog in beautiful countryside for hours and then have the cheek to blog about it – and so forth. Those on furlough are consumed with envy for those who have a clearly defined occupation, whose work is valued enough by their employer to keep them working. And eaten by self-doubt about their own worth in the workplace and to their company. Even whether the work they have done in the past was worthwhile. More insidious, creeping nagging from the voice at the back of your mind.

So I was very encouraged today to receive a request to write a chapter for a book. Somebody out there rates my work! Thank God. Although it will be hard to get back into the swing after 40 days in lock-down.

40 days resonates – 40 days in the wilderness celebrated in Lent; 40 days fasting for Ramadan. On youtube today a superb recording of Thomas Tallis’s 40-part motet to mark the occasion: Spem in alium – hope in any other. Another mighty piece of music written in a time of wilderness.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community,  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – Quality Street

1 May 2020. The doorbell rang this evening. So rare an event that we weren’t sure where the sound came from. A bag full of Quality Street on the doormat – ‘with love from no 14.’ One on every doorstep in the street. I’ve heard of spontaneous gifts of treats within neighbourhoods but this was our first experience. As we all stood on our doorsteps happily sharing this good deed, another neighbour said ‘it’s from Sue.’ Thank you, Sue. We only moved here in late January so haven’t met many neighbours at all – just observed them from the balcony, shared in the ‘Clap for carers’ but the dog has a number of fans. Someone else popped over to no 14 with a single pink rose, the first to flower in her garden, as a thank you. Sue was clearly very happy with her rose and the general good feeling her gift had given to lighten everybody’s mood on a wet day in lock-down.

It has been very wet for most of the day but even so it is May Day. Here that still means a medieval spring feast rather than any associations with workers’ rights. A day for singing madrigals from rooftops at dawn. The traditional May morning greeting from Magdalen College couldn’t happen this year. No crowds on Folly Bridge followed by early breakfast and punting. But ‘Now is the month of May’ rang out by zoom with the bells to finish.

A wet day to drift through youtube looking for the great performances that have been made available live: here the National Theatre’s production of Frankenstein starring Benedict Cumberbatch, there the Royal Shakespeare Company performing Twelfth Night, a lovely short piece by the Ballet Opera de Paris dancing to Prokofiev in their own homes – children, pets, baths and kitchens included. Everywhere a sense of carrying on.

But best of all, more of the competition between labradors Olive and Mabel, with an inimitable commentary by their owner, BBC sports commentator Andrew Cotter.

All such bright moments for a dark time.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community,  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – zooming

30 April 2020. The day started with an RAF flypast of a Spitfire and a Hurricane to honour Captain Tom’s 100th birthday. No one knows how much he has raised for NHS charities. Every time I look it has gone up by another million pounds – £32m three hours ago. A good comment from him on seeing the planes ‘I am one of the few who saw those flown in anger.’

The timetable for next week’s virtual school activities has just been sent around. The calendar that everyone worked on for most of last term has been (mostly) thrown out of the window, but some regular slots remain. Geology have a field trip planned for Monday. I wait to see how that will pan out. The Library are running their regular poetry session on Monday and the reading group ‘Books and biscuits’ has morphed into ‘Pets and biscuits with the occasional book’. Very popular. One of the boys has adapted the online fitness  sessions from the Sports team into a reading challenge – press-ups, star jumps etc each with an appropriate read. The cake-baking challenge in D Social is going very well.

Last week the A Social 6.2s had their Leavers’ Dinner. A bitter-sweet session as it remains a moot point whether that year group will return to school before the end of the academic year. For some colleagues it is a bitter-sweet time as well – planning for retirement in July this is the last time they will teach and the first time they will teach in this way. Both invigorating and frustrating. Others are in their first year as probationary teachers – barely had time to get to grips with the classroom and now rising to the challenge on juggling online sessions.

Downtime is vital for all. Quizzes have become the latest zoom craze. We’ve been invited to four this week. This evening we could have been on zoom sessions with different groups for at least five hours – some of them simultaneously. The sixth form have now set up invitation sessions to chat over a beer in the JCR – with a photo of the bar supplied to put up as background for added authenticity. And at home a session with friends this evening that included one having her breakfast in New Zealand.

I saw a good meme: we isolate now so when we gather again no one is missing. A good thought to end the day.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community,  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent

My Virtual School – rain with cuckoos

29 April 2020. My first invitation to record myself singing to be synced via Zoom for May Day madrigals. May keep the sound switched off. Or the camera. But still – part of the Zoom musical world! It’s great to get the full lock-down experience. I watched a friend, a professional sax player, performing a septet for trombone on his collection of saxes. Awesome. We have all got too much time on our hands.

At school, Zoom and Microsoft teams are enabling some innovative sessions beyond standard lessons. The Physics Dept have had boys dropping eggs for experiments. Some concern about not wasting eggs in these hard times, but one boy reported back that he has 30 chickens so should be OK. Another boy is sharing hidden camera footage of wildlife in his garden. One colleague has got his form cooking together. They are using Raymond Blanc’s cookbook – 4 15 year old boys and a teacher simultaneously cooking fish and then eating lunch together. Food seems to be the way to go for Geology as well – good thing everyone is baking. Drama and Music have got rehearsals for the school musical going – more of those videoed performances to be synced. And the 1.15 Wednesday lunchtime concerts are now on their second week. Yesterday a charity quiz-night for the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust – set up to provide support around depression in teenage boys.

I saw a question on Twitter whether independent schools would be back to full school life before the state sector. Clearly whoever asked that hasn’t been following. Post-Social Prayers drinks this evening and the general feeling was they might never get us back into the classroom. Apart from the eye-strain, back-ache, concentration levels…

Two days of rain has dampened everyone’s enthusiasm. But husband came back excited from a walk with the dog along the Thames Path: three cuckoos calling to each other – a shuttle of spring sound back and forth across the river.

This is my personal Mass Observation blog. I invite anyone, particularly members of Radley College community,  to join in to create a group record of this important period in our history as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.

© Clare Sargent