On Tuesday evening we were all gathered around the radio to listen to the government’s 5 o’clock statement on schools; it felt more than ever like 1939, with families clustered around the wireless to learn the latest news on whether war had broken out. Sure enough, schools were to close on Friday, it was announced, so MCS (like every other school in the country) went into action to ensure that some sort of schooling can continue during the coming days/weeks/months. We are all having to get to grips with remote learning: powerpoint presentations with voice-overs, Firefly tasks and forums, where the pupils will be able to virtually bombard us with questions. And then on Friday came the big announcement: all bars, clubs, theatres and non-essential shops must close. This was largely because the good British citizens had (predictably) not taken the voluntary principle very far, especially in London, where troops have now been deployed to assist vital services. Someone posted footage of a stream of tanks rolling down the M6. Meanwhile people are walking through semi-deserted streets with breathing masks on, waiting for something to happen. Friday was our last day in school. We had already said an emotional farewell to the pupils on Thursday, with our Head boy giving a beautiful eulogy to the rest of the Upper Sixth during a final chapel service (which may well be their last ever at MCS). Friday ended with the staff gathering in dining hall for a final drink together. The kitchens had left all remaining food stuffs out for us to take home – I went for eggs and carrots – and we sang ‘We’ll gather lilacs’ as people gradually drifted away.
So we are now hunkering down. Day one of confinement felt like a pretty normal Saturday. I washed the car (and the bikes) in the Spring sunshine, then took the children for a burst of exercise in the field at the top of our hill. My parents drove up from Sussex to deliver a large bag of presents for impending birthdays (five of us from March to May), parking some way from the house and leaving the presents like some sort of aid drop to a plague-stricken village. We exchanged news at a distance then they headed home into the incarceration which – as 70+ year-olds – could last for four months. We are already planning ways to keep them entertained.
I won’t be able to post about MCS drama productions for a horribly long time, I suspect, but our creative juices will at least have plenty of time to flow (in between home-schooling my children and keeping my History lessons ticking). With Eleanor Warr and Alex Lui, our director and producer-in-residence, I have been devising a project which will hopefully a) keep MCS drama alive in isolation; b) create something genuinely original and c) keep us all busy and therefore sane. Working title: ‘The Waiting Game’. A young woman in isolation in 2020 discovers her grandmother’s diaries from 1930-40 in the attic. Thus begin two parallel stories which intertwine. Our modern woman, something media-based and highly social, suddenly finds her world constricting alarmingly. She begins to live vicariously through her grandmother, whose world is rapidly expanding; she joins the WAAF, meets men, drives lorries… The similarities between the Phoney War and today struck me last week with the sense of living through historic times in which the actual danger seems as remote as the Nazi invasion of Poland. But our lifestyles have been unprecedentedly changed this week, more than even during the war, though rationing has yet to kick in properly (we are restricted to three of the same item in supermarkets to prevent further loo-roll hoarding). I note that Dame Vera Lynn (aged 103) has re-released ‘We’ll meet again’, her 1939 anthem, so other people have evidently noticed the parallels too. Our plan is to release weekly radio broadcasts throughout the time of internment, which we’ll then adapt into a stage show for summer 2021. We’ll start the broadcasts on VE day, Friday 9th May. We’ll get a team of Sixth Form researchers and writers on the case as we did for ‘Reflections’, our WWI project. Hopefully this will give them something to focus on, now they’ve been told that public exams will not take place. After the initial euphoria among my 5th formers realisation of what that meant quickly kicked in.
So we’re beginning the waiting game. Luckily the sun is shining at 8am on Sunday 22nd March as I write this, and as long as it does I think we’ll cope. If you’re reading this, good luck and stay safe.