Dog days of summer
There's a scene in the film Gravity where the astronaut played by Sandra Bullock becomes detached from her spacecraft and ends up floating through space. Without an umbilical cord connecting her to the mother ship she becomes just a random object bobbing through the universe. That's me during the summer holidays.
Without my usual routines tying me down, I am flotsam drifting through a six-week void. I sometimes try to combat this by devising a draconian to-do list but it collapses like a souffl at the first sign of trouble. All it takes is a brooding rain cloud to deter me from taking a walk, or a glimpse of myself in running shorts to stop me hitting the gym.
But this year, my love of routines and my fear of living without them have driven me to do something extreme. I've bought a puppy.
It's not as mad as it sounds, because beneath that cute, furry exterior lies a comforting 14-year schedule of dependable doggy demands. Between vet's visits, feeding regimes and twice-a-day walks, there should be enough distractions to keep me from the enervating introspection that would otherwise rule my life.
Besides which, playing unreciprocated games of "fetch" - where I throw the ball then end up retrieving it myself - will always be a happy reminder of teaching English.
The pup has been a hit with everyone. Like a young pupil, he's bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and inordinately keen to please. I dare say in a few months' time he'll start loosening his collar, rolling his eyes and staring morosely out the window rather than listening to me.
He's an old-fashioned mutt and was therefore difficult to find. If I'd wanted a designer puppy that looked like a balding Furby crossed with a hypertensive frog, then I'd have had my pick. The world may be short of fossil fuels, effective antibiotics and episodes of Game of Thrones, but it's certainly not lacking in poodle derivatives. What started as a sensible attempt at cross-breeding to produce a hypoallergenic pet has spiralled into an industry churning out borderpoos, jackapoos, and labradabradoodles (I kid you not - it may sound like Fred Flintstone's mating cry but is actually the offspring of two labradoodles).
The other thing that's odd about the world of dogs is the seismic shift that has taken place in training methods. Just like in teaching, the "rub their noses in it" school of thought has been replaced by a more canine-centric approach. Now you can buy specially designed nappy pads and potty training sprays to tempt your pup to lay his cable away from your faux-fur rug. But I'll stick to putting down copies of the Daily Mail in the belief that like will attract like.
The pup has certainly filled the void created when my youngest left for university last year. In many ways, dogs are a more rewarding alternative to children: they don't borrow your car, they don't mind being seen with you in public and if they're ever sick they simply wolf it down again. But most of all, they don't leave you living on your own and staring into space.
Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham