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The most wonderful of months

ARRIVING in Greece with milky white legs was not the romantic picture Fran had in mind for her holiday abroad so she booked herself in for a few sunbed sessions as soon as school broke up.

On reaching the tanning studio, she was more than a little surprised to discover that the bed she thought awaited her was actually a kind of cubicle a bit too small for comfort, and she was expected to stand in it and turn herself around for optimum tanning. Like a chicken on a spit.

Worried that she might bump into the sides, she kept her eyes open and so the minutes passed, naked except for a pair of too tight goggles, whirling herself around, trying to keep her dignity intact. In the last few minutes she realised that it must be working - her skin felt different, it felt . . . itchy, unbearably itchy.

She was covered in blotches. Thank goodness time was up and she could get dressed. If only she could make it out to the car without anyone seeing her. Alas, it was not to be. Vision blurry, Fran nearly fainted in reception, got into a row for having kept her eyes open when everyone knows you keep them shut under the lights, became even more unpopular when she cancelled the remaining sessions, asking for her money back, and then spent a fortune in Boots on eye drops and various soothing creams and ointments. The rest of the week was spent recovering.

I'm so glad I opted for Plan B. I think I spent the first three days of the hols in bed and then went to the garden centre for lattes with a friend. In previous years, though, I've jumped on the first plane out of Dodge and succumbed to the flu (separate incidents, I'm pleased to report).

That all said, July is normally a wonderful month for teachers, the days stretching out endlessly like beautiful golden threads, which is good for those of us who take a while to wind down into chilldom.

I've never had that problem. Last year I had a fabulous time in the States which helps explain why I'm skint this year and appreciating the benefits of staying closer to home. I've enjoyed just being with family and friends, have actually exercised, read, pottered about and not worked on my tan (saw Fran last night and she's looking great by the way, no lasting laser damage).

I did go into school but it was my pal's school - Morna is about to take up a new post and I was helping her move. Ever seen the Laurel and Hardy film where they try to get a piano up a flight of stairs and then in through a window? Well, compared to us, they looked like professionals. The janitor was really patient.

Usually in July I don't even mention the "S" word and I forget about bells and planning activities in period-length chunks. It's wonderful to find my favourite cup just where I left it, chipless, and to know that nothing dangerous is growing in the fridge. I also love staying out late midweek knowing I can catch up on sleep pretty much whenever I want to. That's the rebel in me.

August, in contrast, is gear-up month. If in July I can almost forget that I'm anything other than a latte-drinking hippie, in August all the Freudian signs are there to remind me of my vocation. I start dreaming about my classes and planning lessons without even being aware that I'm doing it and that leads me into actual planning and preparation.

I'm still trying to hang on to my holiday, going to Festival shows, moving at a slow and easy pace, but I also venture back into school which is like a different planet in the summer, so quiet and peaceful.

Switching from Phoebe-me into Monica-me, I get my room organised, checking that the resources I'll need for the first few weeks are ready and to hand. I go over exam results and try to get through as much paper work and filing as I can stand. I'm not alone in this - I usually meet colleagues in the corridors where we'll spend a pleasant hour comparing holiday notes before deciding to take a break and have a coffee.

I then spend the last couple of precious holidays in complete denial, cherishing every free moment and wondering if I can still do it when I go back. And so it is that as sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our holidays. I love them, need them, never want to lose them.

Hope you enjoyed yours.

Diane Allison Jotter returns next week.

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