SARAH VINE: Welcome to the hell of teaching your own children! 


Whatever else happens in the next few months, the world will look very different when we finally emerge blinking into the sunlight.

There will be newfound respect for all sorts of people we’ve previously taken for granted — not least supermarket staff, delivery drivers — and, of course, all the other key workers currently keeping the show on the road.

For parents, however, one group will stand out more than most, not so much because of their role in tackling this immediate crisis, but on account of their sudden and unexpected absence: teachers.

As the mother of two teenagers, aged 16 and 15, I was already in awe of the teaching profession. Anyone who can corral 30 sullen, hormonal horrors into a classroom and get them to sit still, let alone absorb any information, has my utmost respect.

In this photo, schoolchildren use iPads to complete online schoolwork at home whilst schools are closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic on  Sunday in Cuckfield, England 

But it wasn’t until I, like countless other parents, had to do their job that I realised quite how amazing teachers are — and quite how desperately I miss them. 

Admittedly, these are unusual circumstances. As well as the kids’ truncated education, we’ve also got our jobs, our mortgages, our elderly relatives to worry about, not to mention the question of where the next roll of loo paper is coming from.

Home-schooling is not easy, even if you are one of those super-parents whose children can speak fluent Mandarin. Most of us leave all that to the experts. That’s because teaching children is hard; teaching your own children is, I am discovering, nigh on impossible.

Take this article. I’ve been trying to write it since lunchtime and it’s now 4pm. This is not because I’ve been procrastinating; it’s because I’ve only just wrestled my laptop back off my son, who commandeered it at 8.45am to log on to something called Google Classroom, the platform his school is using for lessons.

Needless to say, it took about an hour to get online. Eventually, after a good deal of shouting and slamming of doors we got there, and I left him copying maths equations into his workbook.

I then turned my attention to my daughter, who is in her first year of A-levels. Her school is doing things the old-fashioned way, mainly because many pupils don’t have access to a computer. So she’s not tied to a timetable — which means I had to prise her out of bed via a series of escalating threats.

In desperation, I rang a friend. She, too, was at home with her kids, aged 15 and ten. Every time she turned her back, the ten-year-old was clicking off his work and onto YouTube. 

Her other child was in her bedroom, having been caught logging into Houseparty [the video-sharing app] with her entire friendship group. Like me, my friend had a pressing deadline. I asked whether her husband could help. ‘Oh no,’ she said dryly. ‘His work is far more important than mine.’ I know how she feels. Only in my case, of course, it’s true.

Daughter eventually surfaces. I set her up at the kitchen table and go back to my laptop.

Approximately 4.3 seconds later a loud howl emanates from the kitchen. She can’t do the work on her own; she is going to fail her A-levels and her life will be ruined.

Still, some good may yet come of this. Because when all this is over and the schools re-open it won’t just be grown-ups celebrating — the kids will be, too. Another few weeks with their parents and the prospect of double maths will seem like a positive delight.

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Almost a million people have been tuning in to Joe Wicks’s PE sessions, broadcast on YouTube at 9am daily. 

Apparently it’s especially popular with mothers of young children cooped up indoors. 

I can’t for the life of me imagine why . . .

Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach, teaches the UK's school children physical education live via YouTube yesterday from his home in London, England

Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach, teaches the UK’s school children physical education live via YouTube yesterday from his home in London, England

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Locking lips in an apocalypse   

There is no doubt the coming weeks will be a huge test for relationships. Put it this way, we’ll either have a baby boom or a divorce boom — or possibly both. And you never know which way it’s going to go with any given couple.

For example, I was worried about my parents, who have been confined to barracks for more than two weeks in Turin. My father, by his own admission, is not the easiest of people. My mother, while generally saintly, doesn’t put up with any nonsense. The fact they’ve been married for more than 50 years is mainly down to the fact they both have their own outside interests to keep them sane. Or so I thought.

When I spoke to them at the weekend, they seemed to be having some sort of second honeymoon. Mum was working in the garden while Dad was sitting in his customary chair, slowly depleting the wine stocks while reading out apocalyptic headlines to her.

As far as I can tell, they’ve not had a single row — even though my father, a nicotine addict, ran out of cigars halfway through last week. We really do live in extraordinary times.  

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Madge’s Bath: Balm… or Barmy? 

Among the many nasty side-effects of Covid-19 appears to be an outbreak of almost universally inane celebrity musings. From Bono to Britney Spears, the A-list community will stop at nothing to do their bit for the nation’s morale.

While most celebrities make their contributions fully clothed, Madonna delivers hers naked in a petal-strewn bathtub.

While most celebrities make their contributions fully clothed, Madonna delivers hers naked in a petal-strewn bathtub (pictured)

While most celebrities make their contributions fully clothed, Madonna delivers hers naked in a petal-strewn bathtub (pictured)

‘That’s the thing about Covid-19,’ she says, clutching a pair of strategically placed roses. ‘It doesn’t care how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny or smart you are . . . It’s the great equaliser. And what’s terrible about it is what’s great about it.’

Madge, there’s nothing great about the prospect of hundreds of thousands of people dying. On the upside, though, I have newfound respect for her poor ex-husband, Guy Ritchie.

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Just in case there was any doubt the universe is very cross with us, along comes the weather. 

We’ve had nothing but rain for six months — then spring arrives and we’re all trapped in our houses. 

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The country may be in lockdown, but one sector of the economy is functioning as normal: traffic wardens. 

I had to pop to the chemist on Monday and parked on a single yellow for what I thought would be just a few minutes — but there was a queue.

When I emerged, there he was happily slipping the ticket under my windscreen wipers. Some things will never change.

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Rowing over rowing 

I can’t say I’m as prepared for the apocalypse as most (although I did take the precaution of buying a six-month supply of contact lenses), but anticipating the nightmare of having a 15-year-old son who normally plays at least two hours of sport each day trapped indoors indefinitely, I went onto the Decathlon website last week and purchased a rowing machine for £129.99. I would highly recommend it: admittedly, it’s not the most technically advanced piece of gym equipment, but it’s compact, it does the job — and it’s a lot easier to put together than a trampoline.

The only problem is that my daughter, who normally shuns all exercise, has also taken a shine to it. Meaning, of course, they now have one more thing to fight about.

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Forget loo rolls — ever since the announcement that hairdressers are to close, the next wave of panic buying is going to be hair dye. 

Forget loo rolls (stripped from the shelves in this Glasgow Morrisons on Friday) — ever since the announcement that hairdressers are to close, the next wave of panic buying is going to be hair dye

Forget loo rolls (stripped from the shelves in this Glasgow Morrisons on Friday) — ever since the announcement that hairdressers are to close, the next wave of panic buying is going to be hair dye

Either that, or we are about to discover the nation’s true colours.

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The Rolling Stones or The Beatles? Microsoft or Apple? And now, the greatest cultural question of the virus crisis: Houseparty or Zoom? 

In case you didn’t know, these are both video-sharing apps that allow users to host virtual meetings, where everyone is on-screen at the same time. 

This combination of frame grabs shows journalist Donna Borak's zoom meditation session on March, 17, 2020. My girlfriends and I have been getting together every day at 7.30pm on HouseParty for a virtual gin and tonic (tonic contains quinine, which everyone knows is good for warding off the virus) and a chinwag

This combination of frame grabs shows journalist Donna Borak’s zoom meditation session on March, 17, 2020. My girlfriends and I have been getting together every day at 7.30pm on HouseParty for a virtual gin and tonic (tonic contains quinine, which everyone knows is good for warding off the virus) and a chinwag

My girlfriends and I have been getting together every day at 7.30pm on HouseParty for a virtual gin and tonic (tonic contains quinine, which everyone knows is good for warding off the virus) and a chinwag.

Dare I say it, it’s almost as fun as the real thing — and without the cost of the cab home.

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The reason it’s so important — and urgent — for the Government to come up with measures to help the self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts is because these are already the people who can least afford to take time off.

It follows that if you want this group — cleaners, construction workers, gardeners, dog walkers, etc — to stay home, you have to give them something to fall back on.

Otherwise they will simply have no choice but to get on the train or bus and go to work. Witness the traffic marshal for the building site opposite my house: he often came and sat on my front steps for a break.

He was desperately worried about what would happen to him when the site closed, as it did yesterday.

So if you can afford it, I urge you to continue to pay your cleaner, gardener or childminder even if they can’t work — you’ll be helping them get through this difficult time as well as keeping the rest of the country safe.

 

 

 

 

 

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