“I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.”
Grimble had returned to work after the Christmas holidays and her six weeks of hobbling and grumbling with her broken ankle. She wasn’t overjoyed but knew normalcy beckoned. All she could do was repeat her survival mantra of, ‘Two more years, two more years…’. It didn’t really compensate as she was too keenly aware of what she was about to undertake.
G had affably assumed that, after such a prolonged absence, Grimble would have some form of return to work before launching herself in a classroom. For a moment, she allowed herself to be drawn into G’s fantasy, imagining a return to work day where she sat in an office drinking tea, eating chocolate biscuits and discussing her work schedule.
Instead on January 2nd, with a significant number of colleagues’ faces showing clear evidence of too recent New Year celebrations, she found herself facing a full on relentless day. The only food treats were: stale mince pies, rock hard caramels from an otherwise decimated box of Roses and some unopened student chocolate gift with a dodgy and indecipherable label.
By day three, she was exhausted and her foot was ballooning. Indeed, she had developed a strange limp where her broken ankle leg lagged behind her as if it was even more reluctant to participate in this work business than her. Luckily, Grimble had a great doctor who understood and recommended modified hours with a strict 4 hour limit. Her doctor also sensed that Grimble was troubled with things not foot related but they decided to focus on the hours for the moment.
Reduced hours worked well for Grimble. She felt a sense of control and as G would chant, often on their shopping trips, “Gimble is the leader, Grimble is the leader”, she did enjoy power. Her hours meant some wonderful enhancements to her working life: there were no tedious end of day meetings where people who liked the sound of their own voices more than they liked their home life offered endless and meaningless drivel on the state of education.
However, there was an elephant in the room. Well to be fair, it was more of a huge woolly mammoth with immense tusks hovering on the work desk of life. Grimble’s doctor had been very clear: four hours maximum work load to cover all aspects of that load. Grimble had negotiated that work load to be spent in the classroom and this seemed to be acceptable to all. Well, why wouldn’t it be? Nevertheless, looming in shadows was the fact that, whilst four hours work was being done, that left quite a few tasks completely undone. Sinking in to Grimble’s sensitive mind was a developing realisation that all these other tasks: marking (which hadn’t even been done whilst the ankle was broken), assessment and other mind numbing minutia were being held in a secure vault to be deposited on Grimble in their entirety once her hours were returned to normal. In a month or so she would not just return to normal working hours: she would need to do this and the hours of work she had missed by having her hours modified. Panic had started to set in to her brain.
Panic and anxiety were such strange monsters. They were broody, dark and gloomy. They hid in the inner recesses of the brain only to emerge at inappropriate times like when Grimble was having a leisurely siesta, or a deep sleep or having a cup of tea watching Coach Trip on TV.
G and her still had wonderful weekends, cosy on the sofa, watching films and eating homemade tapas. Living for the weekend wasn’t a bad way to live. They’d always plan something pleasant: a massage, a shopping trip to Waitrose where G drank coffee and read the paper whilst Grimble bimbled about bemused by what Waitrose constituted as essential in their shopping range: artichoke hearts, lardons and poppy and sesame thins. After three weeks of work and two weeks of modified hours, a greater treat was needed.
They decided to venture for Saturday lunch to a nearby designer chef’s restaurant. Normally one meal there would exceed Grimble’s weekly shopping bill but January was a lean month and bargains were to be had and this was one of them. So good was the deal that they decided to add a couple of oysters each to enhance the gourmet moment. Oh, enhance it the oysters did…and then some! Not that Grimble could or would blame the events of the next 48 hours on the restaurant as there might have been a myriad of reasons.
At 1.30am on Monday morning, Grimble awoke to a strange, painful gurgling tummy. Oh fuck, she thought, another panic attack! She regretted snacking on cheese and onion crisps as her burps attested. She tried to sleep but her stomach seemed to be having a revolt until she had to leap unnaturally from her bed, past her neatly piled work clothes, and into the ensuite just in time to projectile vomit into the toilet. Slightly dazed, she stumbled to bed, texted the now working G and then rushed back to the bathroom. Whereupon, the bodily expulsions were not limited to vomit alone. For several hours, Grimble positioned herself in the ensuite as leaving it, even for a moment, seemed to be a risk.
About 4am, the grim realisation hit her, there’d be no work on Monday. She managed to last a whole 3 weeks back before succumbing. Shit, shit, shit went through her mind and, seemingly, out the other end. It looked like norovirus and at least 48 hours of quarantine. At 5am, G came home and, from the safety of the door jar, greeted his feeble and frail Grimble, acknowledging that she was a very funny colour. She grunted in response. Two hours later from the safety of the bedroom, she heard G’s stampeding feet racing into the other bathroom. She then heard sounds that no one wants to hear, but at least it was mercifully quick. And repetitive. For the next few hours, Grimble endured not only her pain but the noisy pain of G too.
Late morning, a sour faced, disheveled G emerged in their bedroom. Fed up of suffering alone, he opted to share his misery with the already miserable Grimble. He nudged her to the edge of the bed as it seemed he needed to lie flat with legs and arms akimbo to get anything close to comfort. Occasionally, he’d stroke her head feebly and claim he might be dying. They then drifted in and out of sleep for several hours until they decided to watch the news as they seemed to have missed the world for some time. The BBC reported on norovirus in oysters…
After a messy but, in a odd sort of a way, loving couple of days, Grimble made the assertive, but essentially foolish decision as she was still ill, to tell work to expect her Thursday. Her motivation was guilt as any teacher will understand. Despite the fact that, after three decades, she was too well aware that marking really mattered diggly squat and a sick teacher was a rubbish teacher. She might have gone back but for one work email which welcomed her return but gave a hint at all the workload her illness and shortened hours would create.
That’s when the anxiety manifested itself in all its glory. In fact, at one point, it was hard to ascertain whether it was still norovirus or anxiety. Worse still, Grimble grew snappish, snarky and agitated with the recovering but oblivious G. After a few hours of grizzly Grimble, she finally decided to confess her convoluted and aggrieved mind to G.
She told him about feeling like she was immersed in mud. Up until this point, she’d been managing a doggy paddle of sorts but now she felt like she was foundering and sinking. She felt an overwhelming sense of doom and vulnerability. She felt that, despite working well enough for thirty years, she was rubbish at it. Every part of data collection, every soul destroying spreadsheet and every additional revision class put on in teachers’ time off, and even holidays, for kids who could not be arsed to listen the first time enraged her. Her feelings of inadequacy and self hate were compounded by her evangelical colleagues who’d put their work above their family life: something she’d never do, having lost all her family to disease and death, she wasn’t going to lose her beloved G to a flaccid and uninspiring job where any attempt to engender a real love for learning or a sense of resilience and independence was suppressed by a system that relied on vacuous numbers and fundamentally flawed value added bullshit. Basically, Grimble felt that she was constantly dancing but that the rhythm and beat of the music kept inexplicably changing, just as she mastered one set of steps.
After her rant, she looked up and G who, though he might not have listened to the entirety of her ravings, had comprehended the gist of her gloom and was gentle, loving and kind. His empathy encouraged her to face this morass of misery. She contacted her doctor and she told work in as much detail as she could muster exactly how she was feeling and that she was going off.
Now it was Sunday night. She hadn’t prepped a lesson. She hadn’t marked a book. She hadn’t beat herself up emotionally because she wanted to watch Dancing on Ice and not target set 16 year olds based on data from when they were 10. Her mood had already enhanced largely because G’s response to her confession was to drive her to the boat that day. Well to the nearest point that they could get to without the car being bogged in the mud. They then squelched across the water submerged field and checked their beloved boat was secure. They didn’t sail but just the sheer joy of boat with an engine still starting, the River Thames and fresh air lifted her. Whilst she had explained to G how work was like sinking in mud, this type of mud restored her a little and her intuitive G had definitely developed a halo like aura from his devoted Grimble.