Stopping the tide
In her imagination, the King and Queen are on the royal balcony gazing out over their realm. Golden sands stretch down to a rolling blue ocean. Beneath the castle walls, valiant knights joust heroically to win the hand of the beautiful princess.
It is a fairy-tale palace - until her squabbling brothers blunder into a key section of the northern ramparts and destroy several carefully constructed towers. The big sister's tears are mopped up by their father, who offers to undertake an emergency rebuilding programme while the boys go off with their mother to buy ice cream.
My wife and I have taken a day trip to Chapel St Leonards, a seaside village on the east coast of England. This is where my family spent our annual holidays during the late 1950s and early 1960s. We stayed in one of hundreds of caravans that still shelter behind sea defences built to protect the community from flooding and the nation from Nazi domination.
On the seaward side of this defiant concrete wall is a stretch of beach where I used to build my own sandcastles. Today my creative energies will mainly be focused on keeping sand out of my cheese and beetroot sandwiches. Having erected my lightweight multi-functional reclining lounger and beach chair, I settle back.
You can have lots of fun with a bucket and spade and endless supplies of sand. I once got my father to bury me up to the neck. "Will you dig me out now, Dad?" I asked after several minutes. Panic set in when no reply came from behind the stripy windbreak. "Dad, what if the tide comes in? ... Dad, are you still there?"
How satisfying it is to cast the dead weight of a year's worth of detailed planning and assessments into the abyss of a computer hard drive, submerged for all time in a folder marked "2012-13". September is still beyond the horizon. At last I can get my breath back and relax. The pressure to raise attainment ebbs away. Brandon's tantrums already look like minor squalls. Mal de lesson observation no longer makes my stomach churn.
From the moment it begins, the school year is a race against time to put every new practice and strategy into place. We are set targets that are more challenging than the one where William Tell stuck an apple on his son's head and told him to stand very, very still. But standing still is something teachers can't contemplate, for if the pace drops marginally below frenetic you get dragged out to sea by the undertow of all the things you didn't get done. The job has never been more demanding than it is now: high stakes, high visibility and managers greedy for evidence. When the tide is against you and the vastness of the ocean seeks to swallow you up, all you can do is thrash around like crazy and pray you don't go under.
I must have fallen asleep because when I open my eyes it is late afternoon and the beach is almost deserted. The families have packed up their dreams and gone to Sue's Seaside Chippy or the bright lights of Bibby's amusement arcade. The few castles that survived the day's exertions have been abandoned to their fates. The wind is changing. The tide is already on the turn.
Steve Eddison is a teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.