Gap year

This time last year I finished working in the London Oratory School Library and wrote my last post as a fully-fledged member of the working community.

Read all about it, here:

Yesterday I received the latest copy of their school magazine and it brought back such sweet – and some not so sweet – memories. I was especially interested to see the photo of the new librarians. They look very nice. Hmmm.

For the first time in many years I found myself unemployed, yet not willing to go back to full time work.. But what to do? 66 years old, taking my pension, but not quite ready for the scrap heap.

So I decided on yettanother gap year. I had one after I left school, another after graduating and then was going to have another after finishing my PGCE But that was not to be as I somehow managed to be engaged as a teacher!

Anyway this time nothing impeded my plan. I signed up to a supply teaching agency, told them in no uncertain terms that I did not want a full time job, I did not want to travel far, I did not want to prepare lessons, mark work, or make relationships. All I wanted to do, was to arrive, dish out the work, collect it in, and go home again. No problem, said the agency. Do as much or as little as you like. So I prepared myself for the life of riley and anticipated a year full of pleasure, aided and abetted by the occasional day in a school, just to keep my hand in, as it were.

Well, of course, things never go to plan. I waited about 6 weeks for my first job. Meanwhile I joined Friends of the Royal Academy, I made phone calls and plans to see all my non-working friends , I arranged lots of theatre trips with my family. I caught up with my emails and generally began to enjoy myself.

My husband was working in Cambridge during the week so I didn’t have to bother about times or cooking or shopping. We met at weekends – perfect.

Then I went to see the Chihuly exhibition in Kew Gardens. Lovely rainy day. Empty park. Fantastic access to all the exhibits. Here is the full story:

I fell over. Very embarrassing and all that, but it meant that I was unable to walk comfortably for quite a while. Undaunted, however, I still managed a few days in schools – some were better than others, and lots of theatres and lots of reading. Life was good.

in October we went to Menaggio for a weekend, at Christmas and February to Poland, and back again in March. And then disaster struck. Not just for me, of course, but for the world.

As our lives turned upside down because of Covid 19 I felt totally overwhelmed. Not helped by the constant comparisons to war. We had come back from Poland in a rush and suddenly we were at home. Husband and I together. All the time.

Hospital appointments cancelled. Dentists cancelled. Theatres cancelled, Restaurants cancelled. Art galleries cancelled. You get the picture.

This was all very frightening. One of my greatest primal fears is imprisonment. Not claustrophobia – but the actual act of being locked up as a punishment or an act of war. And this had a very close connection – confinement – quarantine – house arrest – I even now find the word lockdown hard to enunciate. It still, as a word, sends shivers down my spine, even though I have of course survived.

Ironically, not only survived but positively enjoyed most of it. Once we had established very clear boundaries, my husband and I rediscovered that we really enjoy each other’s company so long as we have intervals in between. So we don’t see each other at all during working hours – from 7 am to 4 pm in his case, but meet for aperitifs and dinner in the evening. Very civilised.

Jacek was shielding a lot of the time but I could go our every day. So I did. Walks to our local shops, through the parks, round the streets the long way round to go home. In a way it was like being a child again. When I was little my father felt he had to entertain me on the weekends I spent with him. He didn’t have a tv, so he took me to the cinema three times in a weekend sometimes, and if the weather was not rainy we would go for walks round Park Royal and Hanger Lane and look at people’s front gardens. We would sniff the roses, compare the layouts, criticise the colour schemes.

Can’t be done now as most front gardens have been converted into parking spaces. I can’t say it was the most thrilling occupation even then, but it did provide the opportunity for us to talk and get to know each other a bit.

So in the last few months I have again been peering into front gardens – and now some are more varied; some are full of garden gnomes going about their abstruse tasks, others have been converted into beautiful vegetable plots and yet others are very formally laid out with pots and urns and topiary. All very carefully weeded. People have time on their hands!

Going to the same shops every day and queuing at two metres distance has also meant that I have come across and chatted to some regulars. This hasn’t quite made up for losing my bus stop friends, but we’re getting there. I am a sociable person, so this lockdown was frightening in that I wasn’t seeing any of my friends or my family. I haven’t seen my eldest daughter since January. (I have seen the other two, albeit briefly. Too briefly – and also not at all for the first three months.)

There was a point when I thought I was reverting back to my childhood state of total shyness and lack of confidnece. I still find it difficult to pick up the phone. Zoom, whatsapp etc, though useful, confound me and are very stressful.

So writing to communicate was and is a relief.

But I didn’t go back to supply teaching – I really didn’t think it would be wise to go on buses and tubes and for a while I felt utterly useless. Pleasant as it was being at home, pottering about, reading, shopping, etc, even cleaning, (my cleaning lady had buggered of back to Poland the minute she heard about lockdown – and who can blame her, but I was having to relearn a lot of things. (Luckily I found a nearby dry cleaners who do all my ironing!)

But I wasn’t doing anything for anyone and I felt very awkward about it. Serendipitously I read an article in a magazine about someone who had decided to climb up and down his stairs for charity. He’d climbed the equivalent of Scafell Pike or Ben Nevis in a week! Or something like that. So I had a brainwave. My husband is the President of the London Polish St John Ambulance organisation and I have often fundraised for them in the past. I am not a member, as first aid is definitely not my thing, but they do fantastic work and have lost millions in income because of this crisis. So I offerrd to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for them. I started April 28th and I am still at it. Many people have sent me photos of how they completed the real thing. Most amusing! But doing it virtually is hard enough. Maybe I will finish it by Octobe 28. It takes time. Up and down, up and down. Up is not so bad, but I have problems coming down the stairs, ever since I fell last October. I have just had a thought – maybe I could slide down on a tray, like a toboggan? Or maybe not.

Should you wish to sponsor me or read more about it, you an find the link here

Anyway, I have raised a bit of money for them which makes me feel better – a salve to my conscience , the phrase frequently used in the sixties, seems to cover it.

What hasn’t made me feel better is how I have actually neglected a lot of people because I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone. I apologise. I am getting a bit better now, but not quite there yet. I love it when people ring me, I must say.

The strange thing is, that at the beginning of all this I found I couldn’t settle down to reading anything that wasn’t entirely trivial. Though recently again I have a book on the go in almost every room. A book at breakfast certainly, and a book at bedtime – in both our houses. Also another one in my handbag, just in case. So I have actually read quite a wide variety, especially in the last six weeks or so.

I thought not being able to travel abroad would worry me more. We were supposed to go to Budapest to a christening in May but that didn’t happen. It was moved to Petworth instead, and was absolutely lovely . The journey was almost as long!

I was also planning to go to Croatia, to Split, to meet one of my father’s cousins, but that seems more remote than ever. Otherwise I don’t have many desires to travel. Menaggio of course, as soon as possible. We shall see. I really want to go to Central London more. I’ve been to South Kensington twice now and am planning on going again soon. I like looking at buildings as well as museums. though one excuse is to havemy eyes tested. Computer eyes!

It’s been a strange six months to say the least. I have certainly slowed down to a slug’s pace. Procrastination has become even more of a way of life – there is so much time ahead…

But now my gap year is over – does retirement really beckon or should I have another one?

Any ideas? Do please let me know.

8 comments on “Gap year

  1. I agree with Kasia, write a book!
    Anyway whatever you do stay away from the madness of school. It hasn’t started and my email box is already full of stuff which would be irrelevant in a week time 😘

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello there. Like you, I’ve avoided public transportation since all this began. I used to use public transit a lot: to go to Philadelphia and to get around that city once I arrived. Anyway, it sounds as if you’ve been keeping busy and enjoying yourself. New activities and opportunities will make themselves known to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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