Hunker down

I have always loved September. I have always loved the idea of getting a fresh school uniform and a brand new pencil case (#nerd) – I still do, even though I am now a teacher and no longer need to wear that school blazer.

I can see my oldest friend* poised and ready to write in the comment bar, ‘You liar, we never had a school blazer, we just had the most disgusting school uniform ever; namely a nylon yellow blouse that became more puce than sunflower after frequent acquaintance with the washing machine; a blue teflon skirt with an elasticated waist (an easy target for the joker in our tutor group who liked to pull our skirts down when we were standing in the lunch queue, leaving a sad parody of the Folie Bergere facing the world in our navy gym knickers : reminder to self, I need to track this monster down and tell him that as up-skirting is now a criminal offence, retrospective down-skirting should be also); long yellow socks and a blue jumper with yellow stripes around the welt earning us the nickname of ‘wasp’ if ever we came in to contact with a local school). Still, let us not allow truth to get in the way of some nostalgia.

As I was saying before OF’s interruption, although I love September – the misty mornings, the conkers and the last blast of warmth that herald a return to school – naturally this year feels a little different, particularly with Boris knocking us for six earlier in the week and alarming us about any autumn plans.

Although Boris seems to have been blowing bubbles since March, his latest declaration seems to fall on the measly side; broad minded though we are, my friends and I already wonder whether we can adapt to his latest six therapy. We have been so busy making plans for our winter wellbeing – bracing ourselves for the clocks going back (25th October, thank you for asking) that we never contemplated factoring in ‘crowd’ capacity when we were populating our October and November calendars so that we had something to look forward as the nights draw in.

Boris is now indicating that it is time to be less sociable. I fear he may conflate both social distancing and losing weight in to one fat Government campaign – ‘Hunker In and Get thin’. Personally, I was more in favour of his ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ launch even though I had to revert to my old school skirt – on account of its elasticated waistband – when I became over enthusiastic about my participation in the scheme.

Now riddle me this, how do you cull your newly formed book club? You would need the heart of the Grinch to decide which one of us is, ‘surplus to requirements’. I have waited all my life to be invited to join a book club (sad but true). As we are to be a book club of 7, we are now left reading the small print to see if legally one book club loner – the slowest one to finish the book – can stand in the garden and give their perspective on the Richard & Judy bestseller through the kitchen window; inside, the chosen ones will be enjoying the warmth and a selection of artisan nibbles.

On the bright side, for once in my life I find myself ahead of the curve and while others were quickly organising pre-lockdown parties and racing around the countryside this weekend to visit their Walton-sized families for an early Christmas meal before Monday’s curfew, Ms Smug and Favourite Man (FM) were congratulating themselves on their foresight in inviting eight friends over for a Bbq last night. We did this some weeks back. Failure to prepare people is just … well, preparing to eat alone.

The irony is that this event was my first small gesture in the direction of a house-warming party to invite some of my special band of brothers to see my new residence – chez FM – and to thank them for supporting me as I jumped ship. I was so conscious that my catering skills might have become atrophied over the last few years – I was only able to host a gathering of 4 chums in my old flat (Boris, I could have been your supporter back then but now that woman has bolted) – that I didn’t dare issue too many invitations for this little soirée. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, for if I had known that there was to be a head count cap on any future event, I would have put up some disco lights, booked a DJ and got the rest of my chums up here pronto.

In the event, the house was warmed beautifully (we perhaps should have moved the BBQ a little further from the house), I just feel a little flat this morning realising that now there will need to be some cooling off on the social calendar for the foreseeable future.

Thank goodness I am still teaching a broad sweep of classes across 4 different year groups this term – each class gifted (lets hope) with over thirty students; I wouldn’t want to get lonely.

Anyway, last night ten of us (whoop, whoop) hunkered down around our fire pit and it did my wellbeing no end of good. I feel I will need to hold close the conversations we had last night, and return to think about them again when I need a little smile in the upcoming weeks. It should be easy to conjure up these memories because we were a little over enthusiastic in stoking up two fire bowls last night, and this morning there is a strong smell on bonfire pervading clothes, rooms and hair. Eau de Bonfire may just fill a gap in the wellbeing market, if I can persuade Dragons’ Den to help me launch it to groups of 6 people at a time.

In no particular order – and probably totally out of context – the conversations held last night were all eclectic and fascinating. These are just some headlines from the conversations I was personally involved in/earwigging on; naturally, other headlines are available from my guests – we will just need to give them time to sober up before they can share these conversations with us in the chat bar below. Today I am smiling/intrigued/distracted (delete as appropriate) by the following:

  • If I had married a Kenyan and then wanted to divorce, traditionally, my family would need to return my dowry of goats/cows. Even though I am vegetarian, apparently I can’t just return a bag of potatoes.
  • FM’s house has at various times been a monastery and a pub – never at the same time -although this would have made for an interesting bubble. I heard no mention of a ghost, but I had to go and fill some glasses up so I may have missed this gobbet.
  • There is disagreement about whether food tastes different when eaten with different crockery/cutlery. (Clearly anyone who disagrees with my assertion that food simply tastes better when eaten off the best crockery with a nice weight of cutlery, is just plain misguided – you know who you are, FM.) Happy to take your views on this in the comments below – but don’t expect me to revert to a paper plate any time soon.
  • If you are a teacher and should be marking some books now that term has started, trying to use the, ‘sorry, but I need to quarantine your books for the foreseeable futures, class’ , is not strictly speaking, professional. (I now realise why that pair of marigold gloves appeared in my teacher’s stationery kit at the start of term).
  • It is acceptable to already worry about the ‘safe six’ ramifications of Christmas if you have been organised enough to book a massive house in Cornwall/The Lakes/Barnard Castle for the Yuletide. It is not acceptable to do so if you are just using Boris as an excuse to lose surplus fat from your Christmas card list.
  • Separate duvets (not separate beds or rooms) are the secret to a happy marriage.
  • Some folk have been skilfully getting around the ‘no raves or large parties’ regulations by dropping into some well rehearsed, quickly distanced, press ups and squats if the police suddenly appear. Exercise is still king.
  • If I can not invite big groups of friends to come around, I will sadly miss out on giftings of home grown runner beans, homemade chutney and chapatis, flowers and flipping good banter. My haul last night was top notch and so were the stories that accompanied each gifting.

As I write this on the morning after, wearing my sunglasses for health reasons rather than anonymity, I realise that the party is over again for a while and hunkering down – however unsixy it may sound – will need to happen.

Before signing off, I realise I have been bandying around this phrase without really checking what it means: The Cambridge English Dictionary comes to my rescue and tells us that, ‘to hunker down’ means: to make yourself comfortable in a place or situation, or to prepare to stay in a place or position for a long time, usually in order to achieve something or for protection. It also means to sit on your heels or squat – at least we will develop strong thighs and ankles even if we are lonely and miserable. Our challenge is to hold the hunker position until December 25th.

Strangely this makes me think of standing in that school lunch queue back in the day. I suddenly feel a little blue – and yellow. Oldest Friend will understand how I am feeling, and she lives so far away that although we will be hunkering down at an unreasonably unsociable distance, at least we can outnumber Boris and use our waspish humour to laugh about his latest plans.

*As you know by now, OF is not my oldest friend in years, but she is my longest standing friend having been to school with me.

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