Most of the time, politics do not intrude into my working life. Although the UK government, whatever its hue, regularly throws curve balls at small business owners that make their work even more challenging, I have learnt to ignore them, or just shoulder the burden and carry on.
Nor do politics intrude on my personal life, at least not usually. However, I recently woke to the news that the education secretary, Michael Gove, was preparing to announce a complete ban on children missing school during term time. At the moment, head teachers are allowed to authorise absences of up to two weeks per school year, intended for family emergencies such as funerals. In practice, families regularly use this dispensation to go on holiday during term time, when flights and hotels are cheaper. Gove, it seemed, was about to seal this loophole.
But then I suddenly remembered that I had my own family emergency to deal with. It is not a funeral, although it is a farewell – later this month I say goodbye to my forties. I had hoped to fly a small plane from London to Cape Town, a journey of some 18 days, but logistics and expense have defeated me and I will be taking a commercial flight to South Africa instead. Once there, I will be renting a light aircraft and setting off alone across the country for a week or so. When I have had enough solitude and handed back the plane, my family – 10 of us in all – will join me in Cape Town to celebrate the day itself and have a more conventional holiday.
The emergency is that despite a huge amount of planning and co-ordination, I had failed to notice that Cost Centre #3 should still technically be at school during the week of my birthday. When I heard the item about Gove’s plan, I shot out of bed and drafted a considered note to CC#3’s headmistress. I felt really bad about doing this, not least because I agree with Michael Gove: I really do believe that children should never be taken out of school for anything other than the most critical of reasons. And while this is a critical birthday for me, it hardly constitutes a family emergency.
That very evening, straight from putting the letter in the letter box, I attended a reception at the House of Lords to hear about an education programme being run by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I had had no idea how much educational work the RSC undertakes, and was particularly interested in I, Cinna (The Poet). This solo work is Julius Caesar told through the eyes of Cinna, written and directed by Tim Crouch. The production will be streamed into thousands of schools on July 2 as part of the World Shakespeare Festival.
I was rather enjoying the RSC reception until, to my horror, I found myself standing next to Michael Gove himself – I had quite failed to note before arriving that he was one of the speakers. Later, we heard that when Gove’s own parents drove him down from Scotland to his Oxford college, a stop was made at Stratford-upon-Avon in order to see an RSC production of Othello.
Gove looked at me quizzically. Could he really know that I was taking CC#3 out of school? I certainly felt horribly guilty.
CC#3 has to choose some subjects next year, and a letter assessing his linguistic ability has arrived, to help parents direct that choice sensibly. On modern languages he has been awarded a B-, which, according to the footnotes, means that he “should not take up another modern language unless absolutely necessary”. As for classics, he has mustered a C, which means he “should be positively discouraged from doing Latin or Greek”. So he is going to do classical civilisation instead, and can discover for himself who Cinna was.
Please don’t be angry with me, Michael. We will read Julius Caesar every day, all week.