Stuck inside a cost-of-living-crisis with the 4am blues again
According to Pericles, “time is the wisest counselor of all”. But Pericles is also considered to be the Father of Democracy, and look how that turned out.
Time is a bastard, that’s what time is.
I’m one of those people who, faced with the injustices of a systemically failing system, will go full blown David on its Goliath ass. After over a decade of throwing stones at Ofsted-obsessed school bosses, I was spent. I had to get out. I even joined the “Life After Teaching – Exit The Classroom And Thrive” Facebook group. It was here that I saw a post for a college lecturer job in Nottingham. Since the one thing I really still enjoyed about teaching was delivering the A Level Media course, I thought this was worth at least considering.
I applied for the job and was surprised to even get an interview: dedicated teachers out there, you know what it’s like, right? The profession you joined to ‘make a difference’ does that TO YOU. It destroys your confidence, self-worth, and any HOPE of ever living a ‘normal’ life again. By this I mean, your free time actually belongs to you; it’s not been taken hostage by planning, marking, and onerous arbitrary admin. Not to mention agonising over inspections, observations, and that dreaded class that won’t behave.
So, I went to the interview. This turned out to be on the HOTTEST DAY of last year. Did it occur to me that I might be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire? I’m a writer; I know all about pathetic fallacy. Of course it did. But the fact is, when the frying pan starts melting, you don’t have much choice!
I was offered the job. I took the job. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to say it was a mistake. That’s not what this article is about. The move has made me realise 3 things: I’m a good teacher; I still love teaching; in the right environment, with the right colleagues, I’m a ‘team player’. Who knew?
So, no, not a mistake. Probably saved my sanity. But timing wise, I couldn’t have chosen a worse moment.
My salary has reduced significantly (rightly so, I no longer have any pastoral responsibility; the demands on my time are significantly reduced; the pace is thankfully a lot slower). Coinciding with this, I have increased expenditure: for the last ten years I have had zero transport costs, as I worked close enough to walk or cycle to school. This year has been the first time in my life that I’ve commuted by train. That’s an extra £130 to find.
Before you say I should have thought of that, I did. I did my sums and figured out that, yes, I would need to make some cutbacks, but all things considered (not least of all, what was left of my sanity) it was a no brainer. The 0.9 contract (up from 0.8 I’d been on) would help as well.
And then energy prices rocketed; and food prices followed suit. Two big factors for me were my gas and electric going up by twenty quid a month and the price of dog food. My Staffie is like the Maria Carey of mutts; she was prescribed Royal Canin by the vet a few years ago after a horrific bout of sickness; along with this she ‘needs’ various supplements and tablets to keep her in good health. But when a tray of twelve tins went up to £46, I had to find an alternative. At one point I was shelling out close to £200 a month just on dog food. That had to stop. Now she makes do with Lilly’s Kitchen, and I shop around for the cheapest place each month.
As for those energy prices; I received an email last week announcing the ‘great news’ that ‘prices are finally falling’. I skipped to the meters and sent my readings straight away, eager to get my new direct debit amount. Imagine my excitement this morning, upon seeing the subject line: “we’re reviewed your direct debit amount” in my inbox. Imagine my outrage when I opened the message and read: ‘your direct debit needs to increase’. INCREASE! I immediately checked my account, and sure enough, I am £184 IN CREDIT. So, I’m paying enough to build up credit; prices are falling; and yet I need to PAY MORE.
I somehow managed not to lose my shit on the phone when I rang to ‘query’ this situation. It’s not their fault is it? The faceless harbingers of doom on the other end of the line. With their cheery accents and obsession with security checks. Anyway, for once it was an easy fix. I’m staying on £117 a month. Phew. When it went up to this amount I was in disbelief. Now it’s like I should be kissing their big, fat, flabby, flatulent, over-inflated, bonus-sitting-on arses. Hm, something’s not quite right there, is it?
Other than the financial fallout, the only other downside to the switch is getting up an hour earlier, despite not actually starting lessons until half an hour later. Due to my exercise compulsion, I now have to fit in a cycle or run, plus walk the dog, plus have a shower; all before catching the 7am train. Some days I also cram in some housework (another compulsion). No human being should have to get up at 4am. It’s unnatural. And man, does it feel unnatural in the bleak midwinter. In January, I walked in front of a speeding car. Something I blame entirely on sleep-deprivation. The only counsel 4am should be giving us is to go back to sleep. But man invented work, and work took over.
The last official day of college this year was the 7th July (yes, I know that’s early… but we go back early as well). I worked from home last week, but this week I’ve been on annual leave. Why then has my bastard body clock continued to impose the 4am regime? I’m a Stockholme Syndrome victim to British Summertime.
And as soon as I’m awake, the intrusive thoughts start. OK, I don’t have to worry about train strikes and cancellations, or safeguarding referrals, or emailing that parent, or uploading lessons to Teams, or finishing that new scheme of work, or getting those UCAS statements finished by the deadline. Of course, really, no one should be losing sleep over any of these things. But lying awake at 4am, paralysed with anxiety over CIF REFILLS. What have I become?
OK, let’s just add some context: firstly, I am neurodivergent; secondly, I’m that committed eco-conscious person that will fish recycling out of the general waste bin if I accidently get mixed up (this happened last week, and I couldn’t rest until I’d retrieved every last tin lid and bottle top and deposited them into their rightful resting place); thirdly, as I think we’ve already established, I’m skint. A few months ago, Cif Ecorefills were everywhere. Lined up on the shelves like little rows of cleaning soldiers. What an excellent idea! Cheaper (75p compared with £2.25 for a new spray gun), eco-friendly, and take up less room in the old rucksack. Because of this I managed to accumulate quite a stock, as I would often pop a couple in my basket as I was passing.
This stock has now run out. I’m down to my last refill, which is now in my spray gun. And they are nowhere to be found in the shops. It’s ridiculous: if anything, the supermarkets should stop buying the spray guns; not the refills. Can you imagine if they stopped selling binbags and just rammed the shelves with bins? There’d be riots. Why aren’t we all out in the streets? Scans back four paragraphs to energy prices. OK, maybe just me then.
Look at France, they know how to do an uprising, don’t they? I bet they wouldn’t pay £3.00 for a packet of chocolate digestives. Or £3.50 for a tube of Pringles. What happened to Don’t Pay UK? Another movement that moved on I suppose.
I joke with friends at work about starting an OnlyFans account, or selling my organs, but this year I have spent countless hours in the serious pursuit of finding additional sources of income. I’ve looked into tutoring, freelance writing, product testing, paid surveys, medical trials, teleradiology, transcribing, copy editing. I signed up to mark exam papers, but withdrew my application due to deadlines on my MA course. I could write an entire article about the reasons none of these worked out. The bottom line is that I’m scraping by (what I earn just about covers my outgoings). Maybe I’m just not desperate enough to follow through with any of these options. Yet. Maybe it’s just too soul destroying to admit that after 5 years of college and Uni, the loan I’m STILL paying off, and 16 years in teaching: I’m worse off now than I was 5 years ago.
And should you need any more convincing that time is a bastard: my mortgage is up for renewal in October.
Last year, I looked into cashing in my NHS pension (I supported adults with learning disabilities before I went back to education to get my degree). The form was so complicated, I gave up. Early in June, I revisited this option. I almost gave up again when I realised the cash penalty for an early claim: 27% goes to the government. But in the end, I went ahead. There were a few sections I couldn’t fill in: such as one asking for the address of my workplace; the day centre was closed down years ago. I spoke to an advisor on the phone who said that it would be perfectly reasonable to expect my payout by the end of June.
When this date passed, I rang again to chase it up. This time I was told that my application went on the system on the 22nd June and that they had 10 working days from that date to send a letter, which would inform me of the amount I could expect. Within a month of receiving the letter, the money would go into my account.
During the ten day window, I received this request by email, “can you confirm if you wish for me to process your 1995 Scheme benefits on Early Payment from 30/06/2023?”
No, I accidentally filled out the MENSA-challenge fucking form. Can’t think how that happened.
Is not how I replied. I actually sent back a perfectly polite email.
Then heard nothing for another week or so.
I rang back and spoke to a third advisor. She informed me that it hadn’t started to be processed until 10th July. When I asked how much longer it might take, she replied: ‘it varies from claim to claim’.
So, time, that sagacious fellow has me in his clutches once again. I’m just waiting for that letter to arrive. To find out what that 3 years of service has earned me.
Then I can lie awake at 4am wondering: should I splash out on a lifetime’s supply of Cif Ecorefills, or save it for some unforeseen disaster? Like the tripling of energy bills.