It's approaching eighteen months since I last worked in a school. It feels rather strange returning to the fray. However, in the old days, as a Head of English, I regularly put in sixty hours a week, living and breathing the job like a hamster on a wheel. Now, in contrast, I am just a visiting tutor, signed up to work with eight individual children in two different schools. Okay there'll be preparation to do and the usual tiresome form-filling but from sixty hours I'm down to perhaps ten hours a week. Easy peasy. My Sri Lanka fund.
I won't mention the contrasting schools by name. Let's call one Asylum and the other Eden. Last Friday, I was in the entrance foyer of Asylum at lunchtime waiting for my tutee. Two small boys - about eleven years old - began to perform some kind of impromptu street-dancing routine. The weasly, undernourished one span on his skull with no other support before falling over in a fit of manic laughter. He remained supine in the foyer, even as a young bearded teacher towered over him bellowing futilely: "Get up! Get up! How many more times do I have to tell you? Get up!"
And there I was, leaning against a wall adorned with clip-framed awards but I didn't give a fig. It wasn't my place to sort those silly billy boys out as I would once have done. I was waiting for my tutee and when he arrived we'd be going to work in the library for an hour. That's all. No other commitment required.
Over at Eden, the atmosphere is much calmer, more professional. Waiting in the swish business-like reception area, I noticed that parents who arrived were better-dressed than those I observed at Asylum. They weren't visiting about discipline issues but simply dropping by to bring forgotten homework projects in, ingredients for cookery or mislaid P.E. kits and they didn't smell of cheap cigarettes. I know my judgements are only based on snapshots but though these two schools are only two miles apart they seem a world away from each other.
At lunchtime today, I visited "The Angel" in the suburban village of Woodhouse. While I waited for my lunch to arrive, I organised the various papers I'd accumulated over the previous six days and considered future tutoring activities. Outside, rain sheeted down from a leaden sky. Shortly, a beautiful plate of homemade food arrived - liver and onions, mashed potato, boiled cabbage and peas. I relished every mouthful and recalled a thousand packed lunches I'd consumed while working busily at my desk in those unmourned days gone by when I seemed to run faster each year without really getting anywhere.