THE BLOG

Do the Skeleton Shuffle...

16/07/2014 12:45 BST | Updated 14/09/2014 10:59 BST

The anaesthetizing TV with which I block out the pain during my morning treadmill session was priceless this morning. Much more distracting than the familiar dramas and cliffhangers on the famous cobbled street or market squares of Salford or Walford, and the latest plots of someone's dirty linen. Today, the real time of early morning saw politicians arriving on the familiar paving stones of Downing Street as the Cabinet Reshuffle drama swung into operation. Helplessly, the news reporters chorused at arriving ministers to ask them what they thought their new job would be. Tragically, on the one occasion when the reporter I was watching received an answer, he couldn't decipher it. Like schoolchildren turning up to get their A level results and discover their higher education fate, the ministers came and went... resigning, sacked, promoted, or moved sideways; smiling, sidelining, trying not to trip.

The skeletons in my closet have been going through a bit of a reshuffle too. It's all the rage. With cries of rage and anguish from those who think that teachers do nothing anyway, schools have reached the summer break and there's time for clearing out the closets and tidying the loft.

I'm not going abroad this year. I think I need to get my own house in order before venturing further afield - so I've got rid of my Skeleton for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and have him setting issues of the house to rights instead. Foreign affairs are being approached now from a position of Defence: there's quite enough change and instability to deal with here, so I'm bringing in a skeleton who can transport me through the mess.

Maybe not abroad - but I spend a lot of time outside, and seldom without being struck by the beauty of my local area. I'm getting rid of that skeleton which just hunts down pests, then claims they've moved the goalposts when what he'd planned for them doesn't quite work out. Maybe it'll stop me leaving the windows open late at night, then complaining when I have to hoover a coating of flies from the bathroom ceiling. Instead, a skeleton I found lurking amid my closet's learning compartment is teaching me about outside. And food. And places beyond my city upbringing. I'm hoping that all of this will reach beyond the filtered landscape or the pretty sunset shot.

I struggle with what to do when I have nothing left to do. I'll wander aimlessly around the house, read trashy magazines or find out what celebrities have for breakfast. My skeleton without portfolio just had to go. He'd hung around for a lifetime, his loyalty becoming troublesome. Skeletons don't take up much room, but there's no place for one who hauntingly embodies idleness. My closet now houses skeletons who deal in science, in universities, in innovations and in skills. I'm replacing restless purposelessness with learning new things and new ways of learning them. And then perhaps another skeleton, to help me find the energy I'll need...

But amid all of this, as a teacher in the summer holidays, what of that ghostly skeleton which rules my education life? Alas. The discipline of the world of schools - the schedules, the targets, the accounted results and the ceaseless aspiration to improve - has crept on bony feet to the forefront of my closet, despite being shuffled sidelong to hang just beside my sidelined winter coat. That disciplinarian, improvement-seeking missile is rattling his bones at me, reminding me that I need to sit about less and move around much more. If I'm to prove I deserve my holiday, his rictus chatters at me, I should be using the summer to improve myself, to be better at being a person - daughter - wife - learner - whatever it is that justifies my existence as something other than an educational resource. The skeleton now lurking in the education corner of my closet looks benign by contrast, but the ubiquity of the one I'd pushed aside and backwards is unsettling. Improve, it chatters at me, grinning. Reform yourself. Prove yourself. Meet standards greater than those you've ever set yourself before. I hear the bones rattle as I try to close the wardrobe door...

This isn't Narnia. This closet doesn't hold a magic kingdom, of parable, allegory and salvation. There is no sophistry of realignment. I've simply rearranged the shortcomings and anxieties of before. It's like Samuel Beckett said: Try again. Fail again. Fail better. The closet might be rearranged, but the same skeletons are in there as before, rattling their way through different things, but in the same old ways. Maybe I'm still not quite meeting my targets as a teacher, at home or away, in my health, my gender or my family life. So many closet compartments for the skeletons. So many ways to fail.

Same skeletons, different alignment.

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