Jessica Farrington admired the neat tick she had just put in the box next to this morning’s first task on the home-schooling schedule. When St Margaret’s had closed last week to prevent the transmission of coronavirus from children to their grandparents (the logic of stopping children from seeing other children to achieve this outcome seemed fundamentally flawed to Jessica), she had sent her husband on an essential journey to head office to collect the Interactive Conferencing Display Equipment she needed to turn the study into a classroom; the waft of solvent emanating from the nib of her new royal blue permanent marker pen was the only recompense she had for the fact that had he returned without the desired equipment and presented her with a totally inert, box standard, four-foot square White Board and a parking penalty notice from Southwark Borough Council.
Her schedule included breaks for every member of the family. Tarquin had spent the majority of his wet playtime allocation in the downstairs cloakroom washing his hands and singing “Head shoulders, hands and space, hands and space”, while Tamara, currently in Year 2, had started and completed an expert level So Duko at the kitchen island ; it was no wonder to Jessica, witnessing as she was, the declining standard of early years teaching, that her poor son was still on the same reading scheme as the likes of Tommy Dunne. Tarquin was obviously gifted but she had known, ever since that baffling bout of high blood pressure which had induced labour a week before her due date, that she would be fighting his corner for years to come in respect of his late August birthday, but it was becoming increasingly apparent to her that very little real teaching had been accomplished in Reception this year. The only silver lining to this cloud, was it enabled her to put a more positive spin on the ‘final decision’ letter she had received regarding key worker status from the headmistress this morning.
“They look sparkling clean ....”
She had a lot of work to do. She deposited a dollop of sanitizing gel on Tarquin’s outstretched hands and sat him down in front of the exercise sheet she had found on www.howwealllearnttoread.com. This week’s suggested work from school had been totally inappropriate; alongside several downloadable and pointless worksheets entitled ‘Jobs When I grow Up’, the learning plan had included a ‘phonics party-bag’ that Mrs Downing had left on the doorstep two days ago; it had contained a handful of Paw Patrol stickers, tips on how to set up a ‘CH Sound’ Treasure Hunt in the garden or an ‘OO Sound’ teatime quiz, plus an A3 ‘colouring crew’ printout of ‘People At Work’ – as if Tarquin was going to be a Plumber or a Lorry Driver.
The schedule had her husband making lunch today; he was working from home in the garage as the study wasn’t big enough for them all. He had asked if he could set his laptop up in the spare bedroom but, after careful consideration, he had to agree with Jessica, that you never knew when guests might turn up. He put on an apron, chopped some fresh wild garlic from the garden with parmesan and olive oil and stirred it all through a pan of steaming fresh pasta and charred chorizo. After loading the dishwasher, he checked the schedule, noted that this afternoon was “Show and Tell” and returned quietly to his workplace having confirmed that his presence was not required again until 2.45pm.
Jessica had arranged for her mother-in-law, Granny Florence (named after the second home), to join them on Zoom for the final session of the week. At exactly quarter to three, a message, which Jessica found delightfully ironic, popped up on her laptop indicating that Grandma was in the ‘Waiting Room’. The children squeaked with excitement and surprise; they had both been born surrounded by this technology but for some reason, even to their young minds, there was something automagical about an old person appearing online. Tamara dazzled them all with her talk on ‘The Impact of Rivers and The Economies Through Which They Pass’ and concluded her presentation with a performance of ‘The Blue Danube’ on her new cello. Jessica’s husband had been briefed to do most of the ‘filling’, while she maintained a vigilant perimeter check of the on-screen view; this is when she noticed that Tarquin had slipped out of frame. She called him back:
“Come and say hello to Grandma darling ...”
Tarquin reappeared and held up a large piece of paper to the camera that he must have taken out of the recycling bin: ‘People At Work’; he had coloured in the man wearing an apron and holding a frying pan. Grandma ‘Hawkeye’ locked on straight away:
“That’s lovely Tarquin. Who is it sweetheart?”
Jessica trembled slightly; she hadn’t planned for this.
“You are such a clever boy. What does it say underneath his picture?”
Tarquin breathed in deeply, held the picture of daddy up to the camera and tried to remember how mummy had said the letters should sound : C – but mummy says ker , O as it sounds in cl-o-ck or tick-tock .... but oddly K is also ker, like handkerchief :
He proudly spelt out the word, letter by letter:
“C - O – O - K ”
The room was silent.
10 seconds later: ‘Your Zoom session has expired’