A Touchy Subject

During 'lockdown' I've been asked to 'keep in touch' with my tutor group. They're a delighful bunch of 11-12 year-olds whose names I had just about managed to learn when school was all but closed on 20 March. Some are conscientious, some are not, Gemma (not her real name) has a black belt in martial arts and Abraham (again, not his real name) is invariably fast asleep at 8.45 in the morning. Emma, bless her, turns up early every day and hovers over my desk while I try to prepare my lessons. I do spelling tests with them, hand out certificates for 100% attendance (I'm not sure people should be rewarded for turning up with the bubonic plague) and read out important notices about things like Inter-House Competitions, Christmas movies and nits. Actually, we haven't had to read the Statement on Nits yet this year. But they've stayed at home since 23 March and we don't see each other at the moment. In fact, I haven't seen a single one of them for over ten weeks.

My trusty Oxford Dictionary (£6.00, WHSmiths, Woking, circa 1994) has 27 definitions of the word 'touch'. One of them says "in touch a regularly speaking to, writing to or visiting someone b having an up to date understanding of a situation or trend". So, can I 'keep in touch' with my tutor group now that neither they nor I come to school? I can't go and visit them unless I've got less integrity than Dominic Cummings and, anyway, wouldn't you find it a bit odd if your tutor suddenly showed up at your front door? I suppose I could write to them - and I do send the odd generic email. I've even made a few videos that feature my ventriloquist's dummy, Roy and have 11 subscribers on my YouTube Channel (Virtual Geographer). Yes. I know that's not many. My daughter has told me as much.

Safeguarding concerns, for all the good they do (and they do a lot of good) complicate even things as simple as making a phone call but that's all I'm left with. So, once a fortnight, I dutifully sit down with my list of phone numbers which I access via SIMS online and call each one of them up. It's normally around mid-morning, when most civilised people are having a cup of coffee - say 11.00am.

It's not going well, to be honest. Invariably I am greeted with an answering machine. "Hello, the person you are calling can't be bothered to pick up the phone right now" or "Hello, the person you are calling has seen that you've come up as a private number on their phone, so they won't pick up on principle". You know the kind of thing. Occasionally, a cautious voice will answer the phone.

"Hello", it says.

"It's Mr Senior here", I explain. "I'm Abraham's tutor from school. Can I speak to him?"

A few seconds later a bleary-eyed tweenager comes onto the line.

"Hello" ... "Yes, I was asleep ..." he confirms. I explain that he really ought to have got up by now as there is work for him to be doing on Google Classroom. He mumbles a few platitudes and - probably - goes back to bed. How do I know?

Heather's Mum tells me she (Heather, that is) is missing her friends. Manjit's computer has given up the ghost and Elizabeth needs paper copies of the work because Dad won't allow her to have access to the Internet at home. In all, I glean five or six useful pieces of information which I then, dutifully, record on an improbably large database my colleagues keep messing up because they're even less computer savvy than I am.

So, am 'keeping in touch'? I don't think so. I'm not writing or speaking to them regularly, and I'm not visiting them at all. I am, however, colouring in little boxes by their names on this enormous grid I've been given, to confirm that I have had 'PC' (parental contact) during the past fortnight. It's getting a bit like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which was one of the first films I ever saw at the cinema). I call out "Doh-Doh-Doh?" and, after a short pause the reply comes back ""Duh-Doh!"

Everybody is happy again ... but none of us have a clue what it means.

I have changed the names of everyone I've mentioned to protect their identity.

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