At some point in the early days of 2016, I noticed that Wimbledon Man and I weren’t Facebook friends anymore. I will admit that I felt a sense of loss . . . I never stopped liking him – he merely had poor timing. And, to be fair, I had a chicken that hated him with passion seething. But apart from all that, I thought that we could remain friends; he was a successful film nerd, which I loved. Voluntarily, he ran a cinema museum in Lambeth which I had anticipated visiting, but as our relationship never took off (unlike Dorothea), it never happened. I looked him up to see if he existed at all in Facebook World and it appeared that he didn’t – unless he’d blocked me. I confided in Rhiannon and she said that he’d probably come off Facebook but I doubted it. He was pretty active – if our relationship had taken off, there would have been a serious talk to be had about his use of social media.
She was wrong and I was right. This was the third man to block me in less than a year. The Dude blocked me when he dumped me, although he soon unblocked me and sent me a new friend request, amidst a flurry of apologies. The Rastafarian blocked me, for no good reason, although he mumbled words like ‘protection’ and ‘own good’ as if he worked for MI5. (He did imply this was the case once, in whispered tones, so I whispered back that I did too. I asked if the whole poverty thing was a cover, in which case I would just pretend to give him money from now on. Nothing more was said.) Obviously, he’d had deceitful motives when he hid me from his social media (or his social media from me – not really sure). And now Wimbledon Man. Our last interaction was him messaging on the umpteenth morning in a row, with ‘How are you?’ and my replying for the umpteenth time, ‘Good thanks. How are you?’ He knew I was in a new relationship so I said that it was getting weird. He said ‘ok’ and fell silent. I don’t know exactly when communication was severed, but I do know that by the time I noticed, when I reflected on the situation, I realised that I couldn’t recall have seen any evidence of his existence for a while. I couldn’t help thinking that if it had taken that long for me to notice, maybe he wasn’t that important to me. I knew that I had been blunt, with my opinions on his Groundhog Day-esque message popping up, without fail, morning after morning, but if I’d thought that offence was in danger of being taken, I would have sandwiched my evidently hurtful remark between niceties. One of my Y11s remarked recently that I was very blunt. Another member of the group quipped, ‘and that’s why I love her!’ which was flattering, of course and so criticism turned into praise, but maybe I need to work on my tact and diplomacy . . .
Returning to Wimbledon Man, I figured that the cinema museum was still available to visit and to put a positive spin on the matter, I wouldn’t know of its existence at all, had we never met.
So, the countdown towards half-term was gathering momentum. Many years ago, when I taught at a girls’ boarding school, there used to be a countdown marker in the bottom right-hand corner of the white-board in the staffroom. You wouldn’t notice it unless you were searching for it, but we were ordered to remove it as it was seen as promoting a negative attitude towards our jobs. So we just pointedly reminded each other on a daily basis, how many weeks were left. And days. And how many lessons with that one year group for which you had to summon hidden reserves of everything to teach (because there is always one. Sometimes I wonder if I was ever in THAT year group at school). The countdown to the next break has been the same story in every school in which I’ve taught, but I’ve rarely taught with teachers who were actually negative about teaching. It’s the sort of running joke that facilitates your passage through the day. You couldn’t survive the job if you didn’t want to have good relationships with your students and if you didn’t want them to do the very best they could, but it does drain you over a period of several weeks, so when that break arrives, it is a timely one that serves to replenish your resources as well as to give you valuable time to spend doing non-teacher things, like regrouping with your family and/or pursuing leisure interests (whether it’s doing The Three Peaks Challenge or loafing around in nightwear all day). And there is a sense of togetherness in that journey through the term, because, unlike most jobs, you will be taking your holiday simultaneously with your colleagues.
In that last week before half-term, it was also Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Pancake Day. Whenever this delicious annual event presents itself, I wonder why I’ve neglected such a delectable dish for a year. For the last few years before the children went off to uni, I had a pancake frenzy for weeks afterwards, both sweet and savoury, but for the last couple of years, being on my own, I’ve squeezed the pancake frenzy into a ‘one night only’ event and then deprived myself of heavenly things such as cakes, biscuits and chocolates for Lent. Sweets too, but for many reasons I’m not hugely enamoured with them so relinquishing them for six weeks doesn’t seem a big deal. On Pancake Day, after a savoury pancake stuffed with avocado and Greek style natural yogurt, I created a range of sweet pancakes for my own, singular pleasure. Lemon and sugar, Nutella, maple syrup, golden syrup . . . until I’d used up all the mixture. After all, that is the idea: one eats all the ingredients in the house that you could use to make nice things, so you’re not tempted to indulge in loveliness throughout Lent. And then I deprived myself of sweet loveliness. I’m halfway through my deprivation period and it’s going ok. A couple of years ago my priest told me that you’re allowed to indulge in the forbidden excesses on Sundays throughout Lent, because Sundays are mini-Easters. And of course, you can gorge on sins of the flesh (talking chocolate/cake/biscuit sins here) at Easter because it’s a celebration of the resurrection and therefore a feast day. It all made sense but most people to whom I relay this, see fit to reprimand me for ‘cheating’ and the funny thing is, I don’t think a single one of these people has given up anything for Lent! I’m very grateful that he enlightened me – I’d never succeeded in lasting six weeks without goodies beforehand. I still have the problem of The Lenten Police; those who closely monitor my progress. Last year, I made the mistake of saying I’d given up sugar and The Lenten Police questioned my consumption of bread, fruit, even some vegetables. There is a saying that ‘assumption is the mother of all mistakes’ which, generally speaking, I don’t uphold, because we have to make assumptions to get through our day; however, my assumption that people would get what I meant, was misguided. Therefore, I have been specific this year in my commitment to giving up chocolate, biscuits, cakes and desserts.
Also, in that last week at work before half-term, a block of chocolate appeared in my pigeon-hole. I ignored it for a while, thinking that it may have been a mistake, but it was still there at break-time, so I slid it out, held it up for general viewing and vaguely enquired if anyone knew why this had appeared? Sometimes students’ parents bring in gifts for teachers and so random treats appear and we are grateful. But no-one knew the provenance of this mysterious chocolate, whose destiny would not be fulfilled until my self-inflicted prohibition was in recess. I took it home and stood it on the mantelpiece as a reminder that I was part-way through a drought of sweet things, but also as a reminder that the drought would have a temporary reprieve on Sunday. I couldn’t walk past it without picking it up to feel it and smell it.
It just so happened that I was in on Saturday night and so, when midnight came I felt I deserved the chocolate. Not least because the Rastafarian had been in communication. He’d wanted me to drive him to Haywards Heath but resolutely, I declined his request. He was in denial, as usual, about my ending the relationship and suggested that I collect him from work and we go out to celebrate Valentines Day. Even if he wasn’t accepting that the relationship was over, I pointed out that he had no money. He was in arrears again and wanted financial help but obviously, I was not forthcoming. He agreed that yes, I would have to pay for both of us. And it wasn’t even Valentines Day, I stated, incredulously. But it is, he said, as soon as it’s midnight, which works perfectly because I finish work at midnight! Midnight? I questioned. Who wants to start a Valentines night out at midnight? What would we be doing? Going on a pub crawl that I would pay for and I wouldn’t be able to drink because I’d be driving . . . Sounds great. What’s wrong with going out on Valentines Day? You’ve got work the next day, he said. But I didn’t, because it was half-term and he’d never worried about that before. You’re so negative, he said . . . The thing is, I knew why he didn’t want to see me on Valentines Day. He had to see his actual girlfriend on Valentines Day. That thing I thought I was for several months. I don’t know why he was trying to resurrect our relationship. He told me he loved me and missed me . . . maybe he did but his attempt to make a romantic gesture was wanting in so many ways, so I stayed put and ate my chocolate instead.
Then I felt guilty in case it wasn’t meant for me . . .