I hadn’t realised the chronology until I came to title this post, which hopefully resumes our connection after a pause which proved to be much, much longer than I’d ever expected. Life, eh? The ‘real’ stuff which demands your attention – sometimes quite forcefully – when you may have had other plans in mind. But, yes, here we are. The start of 2024 finds me, in calendar terms at least, ten years on from the end of Church High. And still standing too. Just about. Because the saying really IS true: ‘What doesn’t break you makes you stronger’.
For anyone interested in numbers, this is actually ‘post 142’ and, I hope, now I’m hitting calmer waters, that many more will follow it. It’s been a very long haul for me personally over the last ten years, I won’t lie, but God never promised that Life would be easy and, as anyone with a deep Faith knows, ‘The bumps are what you climb on’.
Somebody bought me Warren W. Wiersbe’s book years ago. I’d like to say I read it at the time and found its advice helpful, but, like so many New Year Resolutions, we don’t always end up following through everything we mean to. Life has a way of getting in the way, moving us on, perhaps to another place with very different demands on mind and time. The title always stuck with me though. and, now I seem to be getting my ‘voice’ back, it’s a timely thought. Because, as anyone who likes their proverbs also knows, ‘The darkest hour always comes before Dawn’ and there is always ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’.
When I created my Christmas card for 2023, I chose the last saying as part of the greeting. It seemed very apt for ‘now’. As some may know, my beloved Dad, John, – also an English Teacher and a writer – suffered a sudden catastrophic bleed to the brain in June 2019, ironically on the last day I was paid by GDST although I was on sick leave by then. As we know, God can work in mysterious ways. The way I ultimately parted company from NHSG and GDST employ was not ideal, by a long way, but, had I still been there then, I wouldn’t have been at home to take the call which let me get to Dad in time. For that, I will be forever grateful. But a bleed is much worse than a clot and, despite living for another three years – a testament to his amazing strength of character – Dad subsequently required 24 hour care in a nursing home. And, naturally, I became his ‘wingman’.
What followed was a time of great richness (but also sadness too, of course) and very, very tiring – especially in the Lockdowns, the first commencing only 3 months after a long Stroke Unit stay. No time or mind-space for blogging after that, even before it became clear that something was wrong with me more than just burnout and stress. The smile was still there and spirit willing, but my body just ‘broke’.
Of course I knew my general health had been deteriorating for a good while, but for lots of reasons I just kept focusing on ‘keeping my chin above the water’, so to speak. But what you don’t ‘use’, you ‘lose’, as the saying goes, and during the long Lockdown I just slowly seized up, like a car engine when sugar has been introduced to its fuel tank. A very strange state of affairs to find oneself in for someone who had always been so active. I’d had knee issues on and off for years, which had always just ended up with physio referrals, but, by late 2020, a hip X-ray was finally suggested to ‘get the right exercises’ and the truth of things finally began to be revealed. I eventually got my X-ray in January 2021 and severe osteoarthritis of both hips was diagnosed. So bad, indeed, that, despite being in full Lockdown, I’d had my right hip replaced within 10 weeks, which says a lot, I know. The left hip followed only 4 months later. X-rays of my knees would subsequently confirm them to be just as bad. It still amazes me.
I have been really lucky in my Surgeon – half Polish, half Italian and brought up in Middlesborough! Our first meeting went like this: “Is that my X-ray up on your screen?”; “Yes. Both your hips are really bad. And I noticed the moment you walked through the door that your left leg has started to turn out over …”; “Yes, I know that … :)”; “Let’s get you up onto table so I can check if your legs are both the same length”; “Well they certainly started out that way …” [They were]. Post examination, we continued in a similar vein: “Is this REALLY the first time this is getting looked at?”; “Yes”; [Pause to find right words], “You must have been in some discomfort for some time …?”; “Yes”; [Finally reduced to laughing], “What were you doing? Just pushing on?”; “Er, yes ..” What can I say? There’d been a lot else going on and I’m tough. There’s no question I get that from my Dad. By the time he could finally battle on no more, I was just about to have my left knee replaced, which was postponed, clearly. Another year further on after that, all was completed. It’s been quite some journey – and a painful and wearing one too, I won’t lie – but I am now a Bionic Woman in the bottom half of my body. Well, you have to laugh …
And so to the Christmas card I created this year to update folk and ‘tip them the wink’ that, hopefully, I’m close to rejoining the world. Then, all of sudden, I thought, ‘What better way to restart the blog?’
As may have been evident to some, reading between the lines, my four years at NHSG were not easy ones and not always happy. The things that kept me going were the girls I was teaching and, I hoped, ‘living’ the ethos I still believed in. But, to quote yet another book title, ‘The Body Keeps the Score’, and, boy, had mine kept a full count. But I’m not alone there, I know. As Shakespeare beautifully exemplified as outcasts begin to regroup in As You Like It, ‘Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy./ This wide and universal theatre/Presents more woeful pageants than the scene/ Wherein we play in’. Others have had their issues too, some more damaging than others, but, luckily, we’re all made of strong stuff. The only member of the Church High teaching staff I still meet up with is Mr Wells, though I’m in touch with others by letters, email, Christmas cards, etc. And I maintain a strong, supportive sub-family connection with the tight group of Admin Support Staff who were the last to leave the building in 2014.
Perhaps it may surprise some to learn I also maintain a connection with – and value the friendship of – Hilary French, just as I do with NCHS Heads, Lesley Smith and Patricia Davies. Hilary’s last 5 years have possibly been the most punishing of all – no pun intended.
Without her ongoing support at NHSG, I could not have continued pursuing research into the history of the Church High building and for that trust I will always remain grateful. I’ve always proved a good judge of character, as I hope many who have known me over the years will agree, so perhaps this might provide some pause for thought in light of the events of last year. Her own harshest critic, Hilary’s growing understanding and recognition of ‘past things’ led her recently to gift me a book she thought I “might find helpful.” It was ‘The Body Keeps the Score’. Her action spoke volumes, I think. For me, once body confidence is regained, ‘Roll on broader horizons!’
And, of course, to the memory of another dear friend, my much-loved Dad, John George Chapman (‘JGC Braveheart’), without whom I simply would not be the person I stand as today: “RIP Dad”.