Thursday 31 December 2020

Ten Things about 2020

There doesn't seem to be much point in doing one of my usual long, picture-filled, month-by-month posts about the year that has just passed. I do love reading them, but what is there to say about this year, when I have spent most of it at home? Definitely my greatest achievement will be the knitting: I am 3 rows off finishing my 6th adult garment and my yardage total for the year is almost 10,000m, an unprecedented amount in a normal year (last year I managed around 8,500). Knitting post to come separately. 

Here are the things I'd like to remember 2020 for:

1. Belfast. 

Right after New Year I flew to Belfast with my friends Rachael and Kate to visit another friend, Naomi, who moved back there last year. We did a massive walk to the Giant's Causeway, a walk all around Belfast centre with a visit to Crumlin Gaol, and a castle visit on the last day. It was a deeply relaxing and superfun way to eke out the last few days of the Christmas holidays. 

Here we all are, enjoying a cocktail in the highest bar in Northern Ireland. 

2. Skiing

Who could have guessed that we'd be skiing in northern Italy the week before northern Italy shut down with the pandemic? It was a great trip, regardless. We were in the South Tirol which doesn't really consider itself to be northern Italy, and we had a lovely hotel were Alex and I essentially shared our own flat (talk about a private room - this one had a kitchen) and the owners let us use their hot tub. Throw in some lovely coach drivers, Cieran and Kamal, a terrifying evening of night-toboganning, a go in a tubing park that wasn't technically open to the public and some skiing around statues of dinosaurs, and this trip was an absolute winner. It was an awful journey back with some terrible delays, which spelled trouble for me as I was preparing for a big job interview on the Monday, but other than that, it was a great 'last trip outside the UK for 2020'. 

3. The Lake District

My friend Zoe and I were meant to be going to Costa Rica in the summer. Many hours had been spent planning the route. We'd booked tickets through a questionable third party as they were literally half the price, so naturally cancellation and refund took a long, long time, but it did happen eventually, phew.

Instead, we decided to do a domestic holiday. 'Anywhere except Scotland,' I told Zoe, sympathising with my little car. So naturally, she picked Cumbria. 'I really want to see Hadrian's Wall,' she said. OK, I guess it's not technically Scotland...

We had a really lovely time. We went the second week of August, in what turned out to be something of a national heatwave, only in the western Lakes I can report that it was Not Too Awful. We had one stormy night and one muggy day, but the rest of the time it was just sunny and lovely. We saw Hadrian's Wall. We visited the tree from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (my choice). We did a paddle boarding session - my coccyx still hurts from falling off (not kidding). We did a 5 hour walk to Black Moss Pots that was less than 2 hours on the way back; Zoe had a sore foot and I never mind walking slow, so we took our time and had a good long stop on the way up, but picked up the pace on the return as we were afraid it would be dark before we got back. We went to the beach at St Bee's, had lunch at the Lakes Distillery, a gorgeous cream tea at a very posh hotel where my car was valet parked, and a boat ride around Derwentwater. I lost my GoPro but it was handed in! So the memory card was returned to me in October. 

It was all just beautiful. What an amazing place. I am looking forward to having another trip back there one day - preferably when I am fitter and enjoying walking a bit more. It's all about the walking, it seems. 

4. Spending more time with friends

For various reasons, the pandemic has enabled more spending time with friends. There was a weekend in the Forest of Dean, a couple of days in a cabin on Oxwich Bay, a few fun nights in at various houses, picnics in the park and at school after the end of the day, more WhatsApp video calls, weekly knitting groups on Zoom, and, of course, masses more time spent with Mr Z, which we both found we enjoyed. There was a fun party at Rachael's house in January. I got a new group of friends to compete alongside in all the history online quizzes there have been this year and we send each other nice things in the post, which is lovely. 

This has all been enjoyable and a definite upshot of the pandemic: more time, more interest in hanging out with people. I hope it lasts beyond corona. 

5. Becoming an auntie

My sister in law gave birth to the bonniest of babies, Lara, on December 29th last year. I have been lucky enough to have a hold of her twice so far, and also feel fortunate that she won't remember this year, or the absence of family. 

Here she is, submitting to wearing my glasses at 11 days old (top) and around 8 weeks (bottom).

6. Getting kittens

Undoubtedly the joy of lockdown. Alex's girlfriend's cats both had a wild night out and conceived at the same time, so we got one from each litter. They have been endlessly entertaining and it has been such a treat to be able to spend so much time with them when they've been little. As a result, we've got some very cuddly cats now. Lenin even sleeps on my desk when I'm working. Krupskaya is, meanwhile, a big fan of the bathroom and likes to supervise all teeth cleaning and baths. 

Sadly, Cromwell the rabbit went off with Frith in November, after a few days of not eating. Luckily Earl seems unconcerned, but we do miss Crom and his entertaining ways. Bonus Crom pic.

7. Some big work wins

It was a weird work year. At the start of it I applied to be the subject adviser at the big O. I wasn't sure if I wanted it, but I knew I would be able to do a good job and it seemed interesting and exciting. I was invited to complete an assessment and then, at the top of a mountain in half term, I got the call inviting me to interview. This gave me approximately no time to prepare, so (as predicted) I did ok on the subject specific questions, less well on the general ones. I spent the rest of the week trying to decide what I would say if they offered me the job, and had pretty much decided on no, due to the requirement to stop all other work; but they thankfully took the decision out of my hands by not offering it to me. It was an interesting process, at any rate.

Perhaps partly as an upshot of this - she was very clear she did not want me to leave - the head at school decided she would create a new Head of Faculty post, which I duly applied for and got. So I've gone from managing a department of senior teachers, to managing one NQT, to managing 4 other subjects alongside my own. I am enjoying the new challenge a lot. 

In the non-school work side of things, I've been working on a new textbook with a bunch of other local teachers since the summer and I am so flipping excited for it to come out. It's been something I've wanted to write for a couple of years and watching it actually happen has been a highlight of the year.

In fact, only one thing could trump it, and that was writing something for the exam board: an addition to the units currently being offered. I won't be more specific than that because this is public but also my personal ramblings and preferably kept on the DL. But, this has been my long-term goal and I am bursting with pride at having had the opportunity to achieve it this year. It has been a long and, at times, frustrating process, and we're still waiting on approval, but it was a definite win.

8. Better self-care

Lockdown has taught me that I don't naturally only need 6 and a half hours of sleep a night. Lockdown has taught me that I don't have to be at the gym to exercise and if I make cake then I'm the only one likely to be eating it and this will make my clothes shrink. Lockdown has taught me that screentime should not be unlimited and that hobbies are things to be encouraged. 

So, I'm ending 2020 with an earlier bedtime, more at-home workout equipment, a 72-day intermittent fasting streak and a larger pile of finished books and completed knitting projects than is usual for a year. Go me. I wish I had blogged a bit more, but then - what was there to say? I'm struggling to get to 10 on this list tbh. 

9. A diagnosis for Mother Hand

We were probably a bit complacent about Mother Hand's mental health during lockdown because, by the time she visited us in July, it was becoming clear that all was no well. This time it was a very hyper episode, which involved flinging things from windows and being very blunt about things. Sib took over and eventually she was sectioned again, though only for a short time while they got her medication right. Either the hospital or the private psychiatrist Sib employed diagnosed her with bi-polar, which is a diagnosis she has welcomed. She seems fine at the moment so I guess we will just wait and see what happens. But this is the first time she has been under medical care during a high episode, so this should hopefully mean that she can access the system more easily the next time. 

10. Working less hard

2020 has been simultaneously a good and bad year to be a teacher. Good - when the exams were cancelled in March, my teaching load instantly halved and I suddenly won back June and July from the grip of the exam board. Bad - I had to learn a whole new system for delivering lessons. Good - for the rest of last academic year, I was only expected to be in school once a fortnight. Bad - I was only expected to be in school once a fortnight: I don't thrive when I'm having to do school work without being in school. Good - it reminded me that I love being in the classroom and cemented my feelings about the job I didn't get in February. Bad - teaching online and in person at the same time is hard; keeping on top of student work is hard; replanning everything for social distancing and distance learning is hard. We have worked very hard, since September, in an environment that has felt increasingly more threatening. 

But from March-August, it was a dream, really. I worked all day on what felt like mostly silly little annoying things, but I did no work in the evenings or at weekends. There was no stress around exam entries or coursework. No intervention or hours of extra marking. GCSE results day was worry-free. I did remember thinking that, in the best tradition of these things, the lack of work in the spring could only mean more work in the autumn (which has proved true) but it was a breath of fresh air, to be honest. 

That said, I hope it's never repeated.

Happy 2021 all.