Back to the wheel after pottering about in Cornwall

7th September 2001 at 01:00
Holidays always provide a chance to compare lifestyles. Our neighbour for my family's two weeks in Cornwall was a potter, and a good one too, judging by the quality of his work and its availability in the galleries of St Ives.

At 9.30am, we would see him wander down to his studio at the end of the garden, with the air of a man at peace with himself. He works in blocks, two or three days of painting, then throwing, glazing and firing his pots. His subjects are marine life, and when not working he can be seen surfing, year-round if the waves are good.

How different to my life as head of a west London primary school. My working day is full of problems, nearly always to do with people: children, parents, governors or inspectors. The landscape is urban and confrontational, unlike the wild beauty of Cornwall (although I'm told that even teachers in Cornwall get stressed).

How does a life in teaching affect the psyche? A colleague who has now left the profession once said: "It's the only job where you arrive at 7.30 in the morning, leave at 6.00 at night, have something to eat, work until 11pm, watch a bit of television and still feel a failure."

For the first two weeks of the summer holiday I have vivid dreams; for the next two weeks I have none. I find myself, in the words of the song, becoming "whole again". In the last two weeks, thoughts turn again to school. A ball of expectation grows in my mind.

Yet there's something good about returning. The long summer break defines the work we do. The school is clean, the display boards are covered in coloured paper, the hall floor is freshly varnished.

The children in that first assembly look slightly nervous, expectant, even compliant for a fleeting moment. Staff look relaxed and tanned with no bags under their eyes.

The potter returns to his studio, and in teaching we return to our own wheel. Let's hope we've all had the time of our lives.

Bob Fletcher Ealing London W13

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