Welcome to History Fireside Chats Halloween Special. I am joined today by three victims (sorry, colleagues) who kindly agreed to talk to me about what Halloween means to them and what role it plays in society.
Following a positive PCR test whilst on holiday , I am now in isolation in a foreign country. Obviously at first the situation appeared to be grim but thanks to a Netflix show I realised I am incredibly lucky. I was just telling (whoever cared) about a Netflix series that I binge watched in one sitting due to the new-found time that I had. I said that the show was a decent time and a fun watch. Yet it was also apparent that it was extremely superficial , and lacking in nuance. It attempted to be ground-breaking but it ended up being fantastical. The plot was as far fetched as you could imagine, but if it was historically accurate it would not have been fun.
Likewise, The world is on fire. The country I live in is governed by a government of whom stand for systematic opression. The poor are constantly shamed, yet figures like Elon Musk have cult like followings. New variants of the Coronavirus always seem to come forth. Climate change is a serious issue and it’s impact is already evident.
I am thankful. I am able to go on holiday and be able to act like this is not happening. There are people that can not do this, people that are suffering every day. People who have it far worse than I do. I am lucky to be able to spend my time not fighting for my life but watching content of no value.
The Netflix series is privileged enough to distort and even romanticise Hollywood’s historic racism and homophobia. I am lucky to be privileged enough to avoid the horrors of the real world.
I have very mixed feelings about the pandemic at the moment. We’re supposed to be on an ‘irreversible’ roadmap out of lockdown. But cases are just starting to rise again thanks to a new variant so it’s hard to feel completely confident in the relaxation, especially the most recent one on 17th May where you’re allowed to meet people inside. It reminds me of July last year when the pubs opened, or September last year where cases started to ride again, or December where some places were in Tier 2 despite cases rising – and those all went well didn’t they? Its sad because I felt very hopeful in April and being able to do things outside made me feel much better. I really struggled with my mental health in the January lockdown so being able to travel and see my family was euphoric. I would have been quite happy to stay in that stage of reopening for a bit longer until it was definitely safe. But now we seem to be going back to ‘common sense’, with people in some areas being ‘advised’ not to travel – it’s so frustrating. I wish the government had some guts and did things earlier instead of waiting for everything to get awful and then having to do a full lockdown. I’m not sure I could cope with a full lockdown again. All my medical care and normal mental health coping mechanisms stopped and it was awful. I can’t go there again.
So it has been a strange few years for schools, education and the system as a whole. As a secondary teacher I find it hard not to feel genuinely sorry for some of the students. Year 11 and 13 are the ones who I feel most sorry for. They started their A Level and GCSE (if they start in year 10) courses in September 2019. No one would have predicted what the next two years would have been like. I remember meeting my classes and them being all genuinely excited for what the next two years of studies entail. Then Covid struck, the first lockdown from March to September was a shock, just as we were getting into the “juicy” content of the course lockdown happened. When the classes returned in September it was like starting fresh again, the passion had been lost. It was such a struggle getting them motivated again but slowly we did it. By November I felt that my A Level and GCSE classes were back to their “normal” self once again. The spark had returned. The world once again changed again, remote learning from January to March. Then the news appeared that we would once again be giving out Centre Assessed Grades. With sporadic guidance from the government we now had to give out grades again as opposed to the end of year exams which they (And I) hoped would be happening. This feels different to last year, we are working through a complex set of algorithm to make sure each student gets the grade they deserve. My colleagues and I are all feeling the pressure. But what about the next steps? Speaking to A Level students they are in a dilemma about whether to go onto University or not. To experience the fun of university but also get to follow and learn about subjects they love. Whilst I keep reassuring them that by September the world will be back to normal, I honestly don’t know if this is the case. I just hope for the students sake those whose passion for the subject has been extinguished due to the pandemic find a way to reignite it. Either way the education system will never be the same.
One thing that has struck me about the pandemic is how quickly businesses were able to accommodate home and flexible working. As someone with a hidden disability, the early years of my career were full of struggles specifically because my employers were not willing to be flexible with me, despite above average performance. During the pandemic, I completed my PhD (whilst working part time at another university). Not having to travel most days, and being able to avoid people who I find stressful has transformed my health. I still have a disease, but it’s more manageable. My hands are no longer covered in blisters from stress related eczema. It’s meant that starting work full time after years of floating around hasn’t overwhelmed me, and for the first time as an adult I feel confident in my ability to work 5 days a week, consistently without being ill.
I’m worried that in a year or so, whenever life starts to resemble our previous life more closely anyway, employers will start to demand that we go to the workplace 5 days a week again. I won’t be able to cope with full time work if I have to add in a minimum of 10 hours communising per week, along with the energy spent on dealing with people in person. Though the pandemic has been stressful because of all the changes, for me, the changes were what I already knew I needed to succeed: the ability to work from home whilst still feeling like part of a team, having access to development opportunities, and being treated as competent despite the fact that I can’t be physically present every day. This is now normal for most people who have switched to remote working. I think many of us have enjoyed the break from commuting, and the chance to spend more time at home with our loved ones, or the personal time to pursue hobbies and interests that couldn’t be fit in before. I hope that our new normality includes a greater recognition that flexibility and the offer of increased or full home working are positive things that increase staff happiness and therefore improve staff retention and staff devotion to their jobs.
I feel really lucky with the job I got. The environment couldn’t be more positive and supportive, particularly in relation to the university environment where academic jobs are so scarce and rarely guarantee even 5 years of security. I’m excited that my new job might give me the chance to have a family at last – a luxury I don’t feel I’ve been afforded through my previous fixed term contracts. But that makes the potential of job loss all the more stressful, particularly when my partner has been unemployed for over six months. There’s a lot of pressure for me to provide for my family at the moment and I’m conscious that I could lose everything very quickly with how hard it is to get a job during the pandemic. I’ve never found it so hard to get a job before, and I’ve been working (at least part time) since I was 14. It’s so strange that such a stressful time has also brought a lot of relief. I’ll probably be sad when it all ends, as I’ve enjoyed the relief of not having to explain why I work from home a lot. I’ve enjoyed being able to rest at weekends and to not feel like I’m missing everything and everyone. I’ll miss the luxury of undisturbed working when I’ve blocked my diary out to avoid meeting requests, and the ability to wear comfy pants or pj bottoms beneath the view of the camera during meetings I can’t avoid.
I am excited to see friends, though, without worrying who they’ve been in contact with. I’m excited for live music, and feeling those first few beats of the drums. I’m excited to wander round museums. I’m excited for conferences and the opportunity to speak to people who research the most amazing things. Im excited to visit or work in other countries, to see their sights and taste their food. I’m excited for Friday drinks after work, when everyone piles into a local bar and laughs off the rubbish parts of the week. I’m excited to go to local cafes for a fancy dinner break. There are so many amazing things that we all definitely took for granted. Perhaps when it’s all over, the gratitude will overtake the intensity of the last few years politically? Who knows what it will bring. I’m happy to have a few more months at home, so that I at least have a chance of being able to work full time tor a while, but I’m really excited for all the amazing snippets of normality that are yet to come. There’s a lot to be hopeful for.
I became a Civil Servant late last year and have learned much since. The inside scoop into managing the pandemic (and concurrent risks that may pile) provides a very different context. As with much of government, policy is very much a reactive process, with seldom pro-active opportunities or strategies in place. Mostly it signifies the extreme lack of emergency preparedness in 2019/2020 Britain and the need for a forced proactive preparedness for 2021 onwards. None of which however, solve the gaps in the growth of previous students and academics (as I was up until July 2020), stunting them both socially and mentally. I fell on my feet in my graduate job, but I am very much aware of both the luck and rarity of my situation. Students have been vastly mistreated and grossly unsupported throughout this period, careers and career advice is virtually bare and the already hard-to-get graduate jobs are ever more challenging and competitive. I strongly worry about the future of graduate careers (and any careers for that matter of fact) for the younger generations going forward and constantly feel that now I have a job, I am stuck in it because to leave in this current climate would be wild and unstable – the very opposite to what I had hoped as a fresh graduate entering the working world.
I remember quite vividly what I was doing last year at the same period. My internship had just ended and winter break had begun. I started writing my internship report and my mother came and visited us. I went to a lovely exhibition about Picasso at some point. I still have pictures of that day. I remember not studying for the accounting test that was supposed to take place on the day me and my fellow students went back to school. It was a poor decision on my part since I sucked at accounting. Thankfully, I ended up being sick that day and missed the test.
One week after the end of winter break, the entire country was in lockdown. It was easily one of the worst part of my life: my sister lives with me so I wasn’t completely alone, but not seeing anyone else was lonely and I missed going outside. Mathilde (my sister) and I used to argue over who would go grocery shopping. One day, my father called to tell us about my mother’s advanced stage lung cancer.
It’s been almost a year now. Almost a year since the first lockdown. They say we are not going back into lockdown as of yet. But they’re talking about it. And why wouldn’t they? The situation is getting bad again. On my way to work, I see people who don’t wear their mask properly or don’t wear it at all.
Speaking of work, I am working as a librarian in a school now. The measures we were told to apply are appalling. They wanted to close school cafeterias at some point. To avoid children eating together and risking contamination. Everybody, teachers included, thought it was a dumb idea: most parents rely on the cafeteria to feed their children while they’re at work. So as far as I know, they dropped that idea. But here’s one of the most ridiculous measures: classes are supposed to close if three children test positive. Except that the children in my school age from 3 to 5: they’re considered too young to be tested. How are we supposed to know whether or not little Juliette has covid? Maybe she’s sneezing because of a regular cold. Maybe she just has a sore throat. Who knows? Not us.
If I ever catch covid, it will be at work. I know it. You can’t make a 4 yo wear a mask all day long. You can’t tell them no when they ask for a hug or try to kiss you. I feel like it’s never going to end. Today is the first day of winter break. I wonder if it’s going to be like last year.
I wonder if we will go back into lockdown one week after the end of winter break.
Hey there, Looking back at the time I posted my first entry, I remember the feeling of pessimism. Well, considering the situation that has been going on for quite a long time now, I feel the same. I was 18 when this virus came into our lives and now I am 20. Looking through this perspective also contributes to my pessimism. I feel like I am trying so hard to pass my finals, or doing my best to increase my GPA. However, it feels like it is for nothing because nothing is certain about the future. It is getting worse day by day. Sometimes I feel better than this like everyone else and sometimes a seed of hope grows into me but then it fades away. Writing here kind of helps me to clear my thoughts and at least give me some motivation about the way life is these days. To be honest, I don’t know when this is all going to end but I am tired of this. I know a lot of people feel the same. There was one thing that I have wanted since I was in middle school. I gained the right to make that wish happen but the conditions didn’t seem to help me a ton. Keeping myself sane by imagining the great days to come is getting harder day by day. We’ll figure it out somehow though. I hope.