I remember Thursday 12th March 2020 very well. The Covid crisis was escalating and there was talk of schools being closed before the end of term. One or two pupils were even wearing masks, but we told them not to be so silly and to take them off at once. Assuming that any announcement of school closures would be made with a few days’ notice, I spoke in chapel that morning to allay speculation. I boldly stated that we were fully focused on getting on with things, there was no imminent threat of schools being closed and any such decision would be made in a way that gave plenty of notice to everyone of what was to come. I was decisive, I was clear, I was reassuring.
About two hours later Leo Varadkar announced that all schools were to be closed that very day.
Within a few hours the school was empty. Pupils who normally struggle to hand in an essay on time, leave their books lying around and turn up late for cloisters every day, were able, within no time at all, to book flights home to different parts of the world, book a taxi and disappear. Of course, they left most of their belongings behind and their beds were unmade, but it didn’t matter, because we were all going to be back for the beginning of the following term once the crisis had been quickly knocked on the head. No need to say farewell to those leaving in June, as that too could obviously wait.
That weekend was an exodus, as St. Patrick’s Day was upon us. The family had booked long before to go to London to watch Hamilton and we decided to go anyway. After all, the theatres were still open and if we didn’t turn up we would have wasted a lot of money. So we went, met up with the family and went to the theatre. We were chatting outside, near the theatre, about an hour before the show, when someone came out and announced that the show had been cancelled, as Boris had closed down all theatres with immediate effect. I thought that maybe the cancellation would come into effect the next day, but no, it was immediate. We stared at each other in disbelief and disappointment, went and had a nice meal (which was still just possible) and flew back to Dublin.
And so began the strangest year of any of our lives.
I can’t believe that a year has gone by. A whole year. And we are still staring at each other, but now it is in resignation and frustration. There is no more disbelief and we are so used to disappointment that it is not worth remarking on. It has been a year of waves, masks, hand-washing, asymptomaticity (is that a word?), sanitiser, PPE, PCR, PUP, social distance, red lists, traffic light systems, quarantine and designer caravans.
It has been a year when I have barely seen a single parent, which is very odd and rather sad. You may not believe me, but getting to know the parents, seeing them at functions or on the side of the pitch, chatting informally about their children and sharing the journey together, is one of the best parts of the job (honestly!). I have no doubt that parents have missed school too, getting to know who is looking after their children and also getting to know each other. It is hard to build that sense of community on which we pride ourselves, when you can’t meet people. Don’t worry, we’ll make up for that in a big way next year. Or at least, we will if we can! Please tell me we will be able to!
Anyway, happy first anniversary.