The spring of hope (and misplaced apostrophe’s)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…’

And so begins the latest instalment of this thing we call a blog, which is really a confessional, and a catharsis of/from/to/probably for – I don’t even know, and I’m a literacy co-ordinator – my life events.

We start at the beginning of the end of the last post; a wonderful half term spent in La La Land; similarly self-indulgent, gratuitous and filled with love and romance.

The following morning – the twentieth, in fact – back in work I had to face the music and dance, though, as the evil demigorgon – or, more appropriately, demagogue – of Ofsted* reared its (very) ugly head and announced its visitation just like the ominous mothership of ‘V’.

*That’s all I have to say about that, as Forrest Gump said, because social media and school DO NOT mix.

During a stressful and hectic period of observation and introspection, one kid spoke real sense and struck a chord.

“Sir, if you got such good GCSEs, why did you become a teacher?”

That throwaway comment really made me reflect on my life and current status, and in a way reflected on current views of teachers rather than my own successes but made me hark back to getting married in 2012 when things were every different, and our stag and hen dos… what fun we had.

Back then, I was merely a boy, and meeting my wedding suit tailor in town recently – for the first time since then, and the suit still fits – brought back memories of my innocence and experiences since.

Most recently, the anxiety, stress and mental health issues caused by five (count ‘em) observations within three weeks suggest I’m in the wrong job. However, I actually thrived on the intensity, and came to enjoy the calm which came after the storm.

“You are my density – I mean, my destiny,” said George McFly, which probably would’ve been one of my questions on my third and favourite chosen topic of choice, had I made it to the final of Mastermind which aired recently. He said this quote after an intervention by Marty, his son, who introduced himself as Darth Vader and, as if by magic, I also dressed as the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Fleet for World Book Day in school.

We then enjoyed a 4th birthday party in the presence of Vader, Ren and Leia at a wonderful occasion which was a lovely escape from the trials and tribulations of Gove’s legacy (last mention, I promise) and spending such quality time with the kids made me so grateful and appreciative of what I have.

Especially after World Book Day inspired me to actually pick up a book and start reading it – one I’d been looking forward to opening for ages, the part-autobiographical Being Iniesta – the pale-faced ‘solutions man’ who has quietly developed into my favourite player, especially because he scored the first goal when I last frequented the Nou Camp, just before my wedding back in 2012 – and even more so, after reading the foreword to said book which was dedicated to his wife, his son and daughter and then Andres Jr who was stillborn in 2014.

Iniesta, of course, took part in – I don’t care what anyone says – the greatest football comeback ever. And here’s a wonderful picture – which I sadly didn’t take – that sums up the magnificence of the occasion perfectly.

Reading a book felt special, a bit like normal life, because it was an unusual occurrence and it happened during a train journey into Manchester, commuting like a regular Joe to a very useful day-long course which helped me forget everything else which was going on – ‘one day like this a year, would do me right’ – and despite the sardinesque train journeys, it was great to be back in Manchester, amongst like-minded people and the beautiful buildings I spotted on my way whilst walking to Salford.

The course finished early and, as luck would have it, I had already researched the distance to the Lads’ Club on Coronation Street – famous for being the location of a seminal Smiths photo and a dream of mine to visit for over fifteen years.

I braved the walk through a dodgy industrial estate, ignored the pyjama’d young mothers who crossed my paths on their way to the corner shop opposite, and proudly took selfies and filmed myself there, where Morrissey stood all those years ago, as if in a dream, dreamt by another.

Whilst walking away, content that an unexpected life ambition had been realised in surprising circumstances, a female voice shouted out, asking me to take her photo on the same steps. Kelsey, from Richmond, Virginia had travelled much further than I to see the lush green signage and the cobbled streets that the terraced houses which inspired a soap opera but more importantly, the confidence of millions of young people, exist on, and I felt a remarkable sense of contentment and achievement whilst walking away from the scene.

I even decided to start my own super band; The Misplaced Apostrophe’s, and I’m on vocals and ukulele. No other members as yet, but E enjoyed shaking his maracas at toddler church at the weekend and B has got into music videos recently so maybe we could do a ‘Von Trapp’ style project.

I had another hour or so in the musical city where they ‘do things differently’ and visited a lovely little exhibition curated by Martin Parr, including fascinating photos by Candida Hofer (example above: sublime) of a black and white Liverpool I recognised from things like The Golden Vision – who sadly passed away this month, and remains a hero in my head even though he was playing twenty years before I got into football myself; you can watch the whole thing, starting with the brilliant interview with his daughter on youtube – and fantastic scrapbooks of flotsam and jetsam by Shinro Ohtake.

How had I never seen these before? Only I had, in my dreams, and in the work of my foundation tutor which heavily influenced my own sketchbooks and scrapbooks. Matchbooks, surreal collages, pasted and painted Schwitters / Cornell hybrids which I’d love to make again… one day, one day. Talking of flotsam and jetsam, on my way back to the train station I then saw a transvestite street cleaner, an octogenarian queen in a hairdresser’s window and a toothless DJ making a joke about myxomatosis on the platform, and I looked forward to getting home to my wife and kids – normality.

But normality didn’t last long, because change was afoot.

The boy had started the transition into his own room; his first two teeth were proudly poking through, too. And, he had followed in daddy’s footsteps by loving his first, tentative tastes of Farley’s rusks. He slept through a couple of nights, and even began bouncing in the Tigger-themed door frame trampoline-without-a-base, which will hopefully help to develop his femoral head which a recent scan recognised that his surgery may have hampered.

Then: another challenging week due to new policies, nursery shocks, Lukaku’s contract renegement… none of which really matters, but all set against the backdrop of several friends having the time of their lives watching horses run a bit, during days spent indoors with generous celebrities who I secretly admire and deserve praise for their kindness, and centenarians who deserve even more. Yes, ol’ JC put five hundred quid behind the bar for people to enjoy themselves and so I enjoyed a couple of pints of Sam Smith on his behalf – after everything. The place gets much (often deserved) criticism but is full of kind, considerate gentlemen who are so tightly knit and supportive of each other that it feels a bit like the Cheers bar.

You wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came, and a room full of tipsy men are singing to one who’s just turned a hundred which can be quite a humbling and emotional experience. A couple of pints in the afternoon there rather than actually going the match, or even a night in watching a big fight (which I managed to get on a dodgy Russian stream) is much more convenient and fitting for the way things have changed over the last few years.

Still, we remain on the up and up, and Coca Cola adverts say it best: “Holidays are coming, holidays are coming” and the opportunity to reflect and rest after arguably the hardest half term of my ‘twelve years a slave’ – but also the most positive – is an enticing one. The good times are definitely calling, but it has been the best of times, and the worst of times, yet I remain optimistic that the good will out and, as Harvey Dent famously stated, ‘the night is darkest just before the dawn.’

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known” said someone in a famous book which I admittedly have never read, but I don’t think I need to have, to understand that this rollercoastery feeling is but a temporary affectation which will improve in due course.

After a month of contradictions, all I can say is re-iterate that ‘everything was beautiful and nothing hurt’ and hope that April offers consistency and the solidity which a ‘wood’ anniversary deservedly commemorates.

It’s all good, don’t get me wrong – just hard at times. Which is in itself a positive, because I think that’s the point of Lent.

I’ll write again at Easter, when it really becomes the spring of hope.