I hated having to do games at school. In those days, P.E. staff were more akin to Gestapo officers than the positivity-spouting, encouraging teachers of today. Although I went to an all-girls school, ironically there were no jolly hockey-sticks. More like miserable, tortuous exercises. I can still picture my games teachers, but I can only recall them yelling and chastising. Never a smile nor a gentle word of praise. Oh, how I loathed games!
Our school was in a city centre and we would be bused out to the suburbs for our games lessons. The pitches were at the top of an inaccessible hill and we would have to walk the best part of a mile before we even started. Whilst the teachers all wore enough Berghaus and North Face fleeces, trousers, hats, gloves, and coats to withstand the elements in the North Pole, we were made to wear a tiny skirt and an Aertex polo shirt with a flimsy jumper; bright blue hockey socks and chastity-belt style gym knickers. It was said to be character building, but all it did to my character was to make me fantasise how to wreak my increasingly bitter revenge on the evil P.E. Department. As if it were not humiliating enough to freeze to death on a hockey-pitch, when we returned inside the teachers would make us participate in a communal shower. I still have nightmares about it. It was demoralising and above all else, downright cruel.
I was desperate to find a way out of this horrendous school experience. I wondered if I could get my Mum to write a letter of excuse or even ask for permission for me to take a sleeping bag and hot-water bottle into school to keep me warm. Every Monday night before games the next day was the same. I would try and convince my Mum that I was going through some sort of Medieval torture and I desperately needed a way out and she would immediately put paid to my self-pity by answering with exactly the same refrain. “Oh, shut up and get on with it!”
The “shut-up and get on with it” mentality typified my mum’s parenting style and was employed by her many times during my schooling with everything from “Mum, I’m worried about my exams,” to “Mum ‘so and so’ said or did this to me.” At the time, I thought my mum was pretty much in league with the P.E. teachers, conspiring to make my life as miserable as possible. I always resented my mum for this approach, and early-on I resolved I would never treat my children in this manner and would write a million notes if I had to, excusing them from games and anything else at school that troubled them.
Yet, over the years my attitude has mellowed somewhat, and I can now see the two reasons why my mum chose to use this stance. Firstly, there are many things in life we sometimes have to face, which we would prefer not to and secondly, there is no point complaining over something that you cannot control.
I think this attitude resonates particularly at the moment whilst we are facing a second lockdown and restrictions to leading our lives in the way we would wish. Recently, I have seen many people on social media, who have the privileges of a job, a home, and a family, bemoaning the fact that the covid-19 outbreak has prevented them from going on holiday, going out to eat and being unable to see friends. I hear the same hyperbolic refrains of “But we live for our holidays!” and “my life is ruined now!” For many, it is as if the more they moan, then the more likely things will change. This is most definitely not the case. I am not saying that life is not tough at the moment. As humans many of us thrive on social and physical contact. That is not in doubt. Similarly, we do all need to have the odd whinge and express our feelings. However, moaning and complaining incessantly is really not going to help. In short, we have no control over lockdown. Given the choice of staying in or myself and my loved ones catching the virus, I know what I would prefer.
It does not help that many media outlets are reporting sensationalist headlines about how Christmas is now ruined and reinforcing the belief that our lives are over because we are unable to have a work Christmas party or go for Christmas drinks in the pub. It is worth remembering that many other religious festivals have continued to take place with restrictions during lockdown, thus why should Christmas be any different?
It is not as if we have had to face this for many years. The positive news of an imminent vaccine suggests that we may soon be out of the crisis. For many on social media, it has been a year of mild inconveniences not a year of major disasters. They would do better to think of people who have lost their livelihoods, their businesses or even family members to Covid, or consider the NHS staff forced to swelter in PPE equipment and those doing arduous double shifts caring for patients. Not to mention those with families in care homes who have not seen their relatives at all this year. Part of our ability to deal with any crisis comes with the attitude we adopt. We can choose to fight it or give in and accept the inevitable. In short, to shut up and get on with it.
When one of my children returned to full-time education , they were upset that things had changed, and restrictions were in place which meant that they had to stay in bubbles rather than mixing with other friends during break times.
“I hate it now. We have far too many rules.” My child remarked.
I looked at my child, with tears in their eyes and thought about how I should react. It made me think of that sub-zero hockey pitch. Should I send in a note bitterly complaining that my child was missing out on their social life slightly or should I use my mother’s must-used no nonsense phrase?
“I know it’s tough,” I explained, “but this has to happen for a while until we beat Covid. We can’t control it, so for the time being we just have to accept it and get on.”
My child seemed to be reassured by this.
Sometimes a slight change of language, not to mention attitude, is all that it takes.
I hope that you are safe and well and remain so, wherever you are.
Princess Mary: The First Modern Princess by Elisabeth Basford is published by the History Press on February 1st 2021.
Pre-orders are now available from all good booksellers
In these difficult times remember to think of your local book shop.