The prime function of a school is to separate children from human beings. As any teacher will tell you, the inclusion of children in the designation of ‘human’ is as absurd as linking Conservatism with “strong and stable” government. During the greater part of the year, with the exception of those pernicious periods when children are allowed, nay encouraged, to flaunt their otherness in public manifestations at Christmas and Easter, we denizens of the human world are able to live reasoned and reasonable lives. It is the summer that is the most trying part of the year. In Britain the so-called summer is mercifully confined to a few bright days, while the rest of this season is usually the sort of rain-sodden dullness that encourages children to stay indoors under the supervision of their keepers and plug themselves in to various electronic devices.
Spain is different. As various people have pointed out: Spain and Britain both have seasons, but it is only in Britain that all four of them can (and do) occur on the same day. You could say that summer in Spain extends from May to October - obviously there are rainy and dull days, but it is rare indeed that a whole day passes during these months without the sun at least showing itself for a brief moment. Eating outside, sunbathing, visiting the beach or just promenading are all actions that our sunny months encourage. Unfortunately, for two of the key months of July and August (with almost two weeks of June) these are the same months of schools failing in their duty of containing the childish hordes from being unleashed on the human population. Swarming, as my grandmother would say, like “black pats” (on reflection I think that I will try and ignore the double racism suggested by that oft heard dismissal) children spill onto the streets, the beaches, the shops and my leisure centre.
That last one is interesting. As a child of two teacher parents, holidays were never the problem that most of the non-teacher-parent population must have. My childhood holidays coincided with my parents’ holidays. The only disruption that I can remember was when I made the transition from Primary to Secondary school, when one holiday was slightly different. That problem was solved by accompanying my father to his school and bouncing for most of the day on a trampet! [I note, by the way, that the word ‘trampet’ has been underlined by Word, but I have never referred to the small angled mini-trampoline used by those foolish enough to vault over a horse as anything else. Have I been wrong for the last fifty plus years of my life? You will also note that I have been too lazy to look it up on line - though, oddly enough I did make the effort to look it up in my massive Encarta dictionary! And it wasn’t there.] We also lived with my paternal grandparents when I was younger and so there were babysitters at hand. Upstairs. So, it is perhaps a little disingenuous of me to harrumph about how some children are treated during the long holidays. But it will not stop me.
As soon as the holidays (any holidays) start my local leisure centre springs into action with Summer School or Easter School or Holiday School. As far as I can see, these estimable organized activities exist for one (or perhaps two) reasons. The first and most obvious is that of commercial necessity: the leisure centre makes money out of the invading armies of kids that are contained by activity after activity to fill the day. The second is, of course, to get rid of the kids. The Spanish are a tactile people and leaving your child in the leisure centre is accompanied by much hugging and kissing and fond waving of goodbyes. But I have seen the faces of the parents as they finally turn from their progeny and walk (or skip) towards their cars. That look of delighted relief is one that I recognize. And, another thing, I have seen parents leave their children at times when it would be difficult to imagine the workplace missing them. In other words, I think that parents go back to something other than work when they leave their kids in the centre. Those smiles are not of delighted expectation of what their profession might offer to fill the rest of their day!
And this is where things get difficult. Not for them (parents and kids) but for me. I go to the leisure centre from my swim each day. I swim a metric mile. I feel smug and exercised. But now that schools have abrogated their incarceration duties their escaped inmates impinge on my life. Because of the swarms of parents hurling their kids with shrieks of delight towards the welcoming doors of the swimming pool my swimming has become cabined, cribbed and confined - to quote a poet of my acquaintance. Probably wrongly.
There are five lanes in our 25m pool and nowa-summer-days by 9.30 am four of the lanes are given over to the young pretenders to leisure time. This morning, for example, there were three of us in a single lane.
Two decent swimmers in a single lane is easy, as it is quite possible to swim expansively and safely in parallel. A third person necessitates swimming in a clockwise or anti-clockwise way. This is fine if all three swimmers are evenly matched, but if one swimmer is substantially faster than the other two there are problems. None of which are insurmountable with the application of Basic Lane Discipline. BLD is the thing that keeps chaos at bay, but it is a fragile concept and swimming (just like driving) does not generally bring out the best in people - especially if they are, or consider themselves to be, Serious Swimmers.
Suffice to say that, of the three of us, I was the slowest (and indeed the oldest, now I come to think of it) swimmer. There was a lady swimmer who was punctilious in her adoption of BLD and was content to swim in circles and adapt her swimming to compensate for speed differences, e.g. using a breaststroke or a backstroke from time to time rather than her speedy crawl. There was however, a gentleman swimmer. With a goatee beard.
I have an unreasoning prejudice against this hairy excrescence and was therefore prepared to think the worst of my fellow lane sharer. And his actions more than justified my concern. For him, BLD was as a foreign language and he committed the signal swimming crime of overtaking at a crowded end. Let me explain. If you are a powerful swimmer and you are stuck in a lane with two slower plodders then BLD dictates that you can overtake a slower swimmer as long as you can get in front of your target swimmer without impeding the third swimmer. There is also another approach that involves judging things nicely and then reversing course mid length into open space. This swimmer did neither but swam parallel with another swimmer so that he could push off from the side first and thereby bumping in to the swimmer finishing his (yes, reader, ‘twas I) length. Very bad form.
My mood was not improved by noticing that one swimmer from the aquacize class was given a created restricted lane to himself! Not happy - in spite of the fact that I have had exactly the same thing done for me on some occasions. It wasn’t on this occasion and therefore I felt aggrieved! And on either side of us, occupying four lanes (or rather three and a half allowing for the restricted lane) the children continued to bray and howl and generally gloat in their exuberant there-ness.
And another thing.
We have a communal pool for the sixteen or so houses that form our little community. Access to this private pool is via a garden door for about half of us, and a lockable gate from the street for the rest. Imagine my disquiet on my return from the pool to find the silence of the afternoon - usually only broken by the sound of the sea and the various building work which seems to go on for ever accompanied as always by the howling banshees of the electric leaf blowers - augmented by the shouting of Strange Children. These were leaping in and out of the pool with their towels and then whupping the wet towels on the pool surround to produce a deep, resonant and supremely irritating sound. Then these imps rushed towards the gate that they found locked and proceeded to scramble over it. One boy (they were all boys) indeed re-scrambled over the gate to have one last plunge and thwack before he left!
I must admit to my shame that the use of superglue and broken glass did flit into my mind before the word ‘curmudgeonly’ suggested itself to cover everything that I was thinking, and indeed everything that I have written.
But there is a serious point (ish) to this musing. Since retirement I have been delighted at the spaciousness that having the whole of a day to do something allows. No longer trying to get things done in a break-time or during lunchtime, or after 4 pm. I can go (and park) easily and if something needs more time for it to be completed, then more time I have. And it’s the empty shops, especially supermarkets that are the delights. I sometimes forget and get to a shop at 5pm (when most shops re-open after the afternoon closure) and am horrified at the number or children-clutching parents who get in my way!
When I was with my parents, we rarely went anywhere on Bank Holidays, my parents rightly suggesting that the roads would be clogged and places crowded and, anyway, we had other holiday days to use and we shouldn’t make things even worse by adding ourselves when we had other opportunities. I well remember, for reasons that I forget, going to Weston-Super-Mare on a bank holiday and being scarred by the whole experience. I am well prepared to admit that I am hopelessly prejudiced against that ‘seaside’ (sic.) resort, and, to be fair, Burnham-on-sea on a wet Sunday was an even worse experience, but I was not prepared for the horrific tackiness and unpleasantness that Weston offered. And the people, my dear! And didn’t the odious ex-Chairman of the Conservative party and hack, Archer take his title (has he still got it?) from the bloody place. ‘Nuff said.
I will now go out on to the terrace and take the sun and allow the golden rays to sooth me to better thoughts!