Mysterious Ways

01/07/2016 11:19 | Updated 01 July 2016

'So you're off,' said the Postman, with a mean twist in his smile. 'Off for two months. TWO. MONTHS. Well, don't worry about me. I'll just keep working until I retire - or die- whichever comes first...'

It's as predictable as the onset of rain in Northern Ireland as soon as the school holidays begin. The postman will always give me grief about the long school holidays, sometimes shouting 'Are you still off?' through the letterbox as he delivers post in the third week of August. I don't think it's just him: teachers everywhere seem to get grief about their time off to recoup lost energy, lost idealism, lost time...

Few things are as certain as that, at this time of year, people will randomly make jokes about teachers being part-timers. And it doesn't feel as though there are many certainties just now. Last week, the referendum result left even those who had voted to leave the EU unsure about what exactly that decision would mean. Those wanting to remain part of the EU felt as though the ground was no longer secure beneath their feet, and as if something intrinsic about their own identity and that of the UK had changed. But the campaigns had been so marked by scare stories and the intense competition of personal rivalry that it was difficult to tell what the Leave victory really meant. A week on, the politicians still don't seem to be quite sure whether to invoke Article 50, or how, or when. There's talk of voter and even campaigner remorse, or remorse about apathy from people who might have voted Remain but thought that everybody else would too, so their vote would barely make a difference. Be careful what you wish for...

And of course our political parties are in disarray. On the opposition benches, almost the entire shadow cabinet opted to resign in the face of continued Corbyn leadership. There's a good, very expressive Ulster Scots word: thran. It means stubborn, obdurate, unshiftable. Corbyn seems to be taking thran to an unprecedented level, even if the Eagle of leadership challenge appears to have firmly landed. Across the House of Commons floor, it's just the same. The events of Thursday, 30th June show that indeed, Gove moves in mysterious ways: it was Boris out, Gove in, and many seem to be thinking 'May the best man win.'

Gove hated teachers' holidays too. I can imagine that, if any teachers lived near him, he'd have been shouting abuse through their letterboxes during the long summer break. As Education Secretary, he seemed determined to reduce the Summer break to a couple of weeks, perhaps to prevent himself from having to spend time with his own children. In a moment more bizarre than exams often offer, the article by his wife, Sarah Vine, bemoaning the arduous chaos of the Summer break for parents, appeared on a GCSE English Language paper set by one exam board, with the instruction that students analyse the polemic strength of argument and how humour was used to get across her point. Her point, essentially, was to reinforce what Hubby said: adding a bit of teacher-bashing copy to that day's Daily Mail to the constant flow of undermining comments which Govey was so good at while Education Secretary of State.

Like many teachers, at that time, I ordered a Michael Gove pincushion from Etsy. I'd forgotten about it completely until a few months ago, when the Vine article surfaced as I worked through past paper questions with my GCSE class. I explained the background as we worked, and the day after we'd analysed the text in class, I brought my crocheted Education Secretary in. Unlike the Gove pincushions which probably decorate the desks of teachers throughout the land, he hasn't been poked with pins; instead, he sits on a bookshelf beside a plastic grim reaper which came, bizarrely, from a cereal box or perhaps a very disturbing Christmas cracker. It's not a threat; it's just a thought. A memento mori, perhaps: that neither Govey nor the teachers of whom he so badly disapproved can always be right or all-powerful... that time will catch us all...

When election results are so scary that you doubt the security of your footsteps on the pavement underneath, you feel a bit disorientated and lost. When the major political parties all fall into disarray at once, with rivalry, squabbling and near chaos, it's a bit like the sensation when your close, elderly relative with dementia doesn't recognise you, even though she's known you all your life. When students finish their exams or when teachers stagger, beleaguered, to the end of term, the euphoria of having got there soon dissipates in to the troubling insecurity of now what?

This year, that now what? instability is everywhere. It's the vote. It's the leadership. It's the pathetic fallacy of the rainstorms on referendum day and the fear that we might just have had our summer already, when the sun shone steadily for 3 weeks. The only tan might be fake. The only political comrades might be false friends. It might all be going a bit Macbeth in certain ambition-driven political households... better get those pesky children out of the way...

So as the end-of-term rain hammers down outside, as the postman thinks up new and more outrageous insults as the Summer holidays go on, as the political leaders rip one another apart and as people try to figure out whether Article 50 will actually work in reality... weeks without bells and a timetable loom. Now what?

I really have absolutely no idea.