Cleaning up social distance

I was too blasé about gliding easily through the January Glums;  I can see that February and March are not exactly smoothing our way to a fiesta of Spring sap-rising.  I spoke too soon about being through the worst, so I am determined to find some positives in these dark storm days of corona virus and  toilet roll stock piling.

As an English teacher I use a bit of self-imposed ‘social distancing’ this week to get some GCSE literature mock papers marked, then read that all this effort may have been wasted; plans may be afoot to delay GCSE exams.  Thank goodness none of my students read anything, for they would enthusiastically seize any opportunity to delay revision and to self-quarantine with Netflix, Dominoes and X-Box to hand (sanitised we hope).

As I mark their papers, some lines from the Seamus Heaney poem that is the focus of this exam, seem particularly pertinent:

‘We are prepared: we build our houses squat,
Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate.’ (Storm on the Island)

This certainly seems to be our approach to Covid-19, I just fear that our Dunkirk spirit may be a little hyperbolic in the sinking of these walls.  Certainly there seem to be no toilet rolls or hand sanitiser left in my local supermarket and I watch two grown women fighting over the last pack of bottled water.

‘We just sit tight while wind dives
And strafes invisibly’.

My Pollyanna spirit means that I refuse to strafe in the supermarket and any stock piling I eventually do will take a more pragmatic approach.  I will treat quarantine in the same way I prepare for Christmas, and any cabin fever that may arise will be medicated through bulk purchase of red wine, jelly babies and chocolate oranges (naturally). I will take hygiene equally seriously by using this opportunity to justify some Jo Malone hand wash and purchase of her finest linen face cloths

Being surrounded by young people all the time, I know I will be able to cope with 48 hours of social distance if the school has to close.  Any longer and I will have to work very hard at remaining positive.

It always seems to surprise people that Mama J is a closet introvert and that I am actually quite shy. I can happily chat and listen for England, but my recharge always comes in the form of total silence.  Because I always reboot far from the madding crowd, no one can believe this is the case. People question why I chose teaching as a career if I like a little solitude.

Truth is, a couple of days of home working would feel like a reboot novelty but any longer than 48 hours and my batteries would start to drain.  It’s not this that worries me about the storm being whipped up around Covid 19, however.  Even I can stop crocheting toilet roll covers long enough to see the bigger picture here.

It’s the viral selfishness of panic that worries me for it has started taking resources away from the vulnerable who could really do with those face masks and hand santisers being in the hospitals where they are needed. If you ‘need’ a face mask to brave an entry into your local Costa, don’t go to Costa. If you need to stock-pile cat food, check first that you own a cat.

This wave of panic has already started the cancellation of events that could really lift our spirits right now – and would protect people’s jobs – in a market already crushed by Brexit and, this week, the demise of Flybe.

Don’t get me wrong, in some ways I am delighted about the frenzy of deep cleaning that Corona has evoked.  I am delighted for anyone working in this industry for the sales of cleaning machinery and industrial bacterial wash must be through the roof.  It fills me with great joy to see our school cleaners obsessed with deep cleaning the communal toilets and wiping all door handles with surgical wipes each and every hour.  It has been days since I last had to tick a student off for eating their packed lunch in the school lavs.   I find myself greatly excited to hear from our Business Manager about an anti-bacterial grenade that can be thrown into a classroom to deep cleanse it – until he explains that the students would not be in the class when the grenade is thrown in.

Personal hygiene is at an all time high and this must be a good thing.  It is long overdue.

If Corona forces us to clean up our act, reduce our travel to essential trips only and to eat local produce, she might be the sort of virus we can actually benefit from.  Clean hands.  Open hearts. Big win.

We should be concerned for the welfare of those with frail health but we shouldn’t scare-monger to start a spiral of excessive stockpiling.  As a teacher I don’t want to be telling young people to panic, to be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested.  I want them to reason, be patient, be informed and to be compassionate.

I also want them stockpile some excellent grades this summer because they have been working their clean socks off.  They have already adapted the NHS ‘how to wash your hands’ chart into a revision aid for Lady Macbeth quotes (‘Out damn spot’ etc) and I love the analysis one of the students gives for the Heaney poem in the mock: ‘He’s really just telling us to get things in proportion, Miss’:

‘We are bombarded with the empty air.
Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear’.

Let’s hope so. We can shake on it after the exams have taken place – if there is any hand sanitiser left.


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