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This is not a blog about Covid-19, although the impact of the virus across the globe and on those we know and on those we don’t is undoubtedly the back-drop to my obsession with comfort blankets which is, in a way, the topic of this blog.

I’m meant to be writing about sustainability, and I will be: I’m hugely proud of all the School, inspired, goaded and cajoled by our activist pupils, has got underway but, rather as a teacher senses when meeting their pupils in the classroom what is likely to work, and what isn’t, that you need to teach the pupils in front of you, not just the lesson you prepared, it feels, to me at least, that compelling and potentially devastating as the emergency climate is, we need ways to keep ourselves cheerful right now, if we are to square up to The Big Issues Of Our Time.

I was chatting to pupils in the Lower School to explain why it is that adults seem to enjoy complaining peevishly about and dramatising their lives: understanding this adult trait, I argued, goes a long way to grasping why selling news is such good business. What makes an adult happier than reading about imminent catastrophe or obdurate stupidity on the part of bureaucrats? We don’t, I explained, have lives full of such excitement and incessant humour as those of your average twelve-year-old, so we get our emotional kicks from complaining. My examples are, surprise, surprise, linguistic and pedantic: the abuse of first person subject pronouns to avoid the use of a simple, unadorned object pronoun (that’s the ‘I’ versus ‘me’ – or ‘myself’ – dilemma), and the rise of said first person subject pronoun (‘I’) garnished with its own apostrophe: Mr Pullan’s and I’s preference would be for you to be quiet as you enter the auditorium. ‘Ugh!’ expostulate I. ‘The world is going to the dogs!’ I fulminate. ‘It’s Mr Pullan’s and MY preference …’

Yet the backdrop to my infuriation with others’ pronoun contortions is a steady rise in rates of literacy across the world and throughout time: as more and more children around the globe have access to education, so the rates of illiteracy fall. The United Kingdom’s story, 99% literacy from rates of 50% in the 1840s, is well charted. We may have different emphases now, but it’s hard to find hard evidence to support my feeling that the command of English is ‘going to the dogs’. However, I like fulminating, expostulating, complaining peevishly, and reading accounts, expressly tailored to my grumpy watchfulness, of falling standards, especially in a newspaper.

This then is how adults behave: we need reasons to pep up our humdrum lives and render our concerns piquant. We like to swap stories of disaster and misfortune and imagine the worst; and we frequently enjoy doing so in front of the young, thinking that they won’t notice. Fortunately, they often ignore us – a brilliant and necessary tactic which drives even reasonable adults mad – but at times of genuinely pressing anxiety, we do need to watch out and ensure that they don’t take us too seriously.

So, while I am happy to own up to my grumpy pedantry, I shared my cheerfulness routines with these young people, too. I think it’s important that what may seem like dad’s not very clandestine selfishness is revealed as a way of keeping me cheerful:

  • Organising my life so that I get to lie on the sofa with this blanket, at least once a week, for an afternoon snooze (you had to be there to see the blanket, but imagine something just heavy enough to push you back into the sofa and kitten soft in feel and texture – Ed)
  • Reading things which absorb me totally, stories (for me) in which I lose myself; this includes conveyor-belt thrillers such as the Jack Reacher series, but it can be middle-brow as well as low-brow
  • When doing my marking, sorting out the exercise books in order of neatness and pleasure: mark the scruffy ones first, leaving the best ones till last
  • Reading things which make me laugh, or indeed listening to them: humour is such a personal thing, but I couldn’t imagine being as cheerful as I am without PG Wodehouse – I’ve just finished listening to David Cecil read ‘Right Jo, Jeeves’, and it saw me through the miserable rains of January and February, folding the laundry, doing the dishes, tidying my or my children’s rooms (‘not my children’s and I’s room’, please note), and so on
  • Reading things which pander to my peevish complaining (and in small chunks, five minutes a day): The King’s English by Kingsley Amis
  • Looking closely at things I see every day but don’t notice: there’s a magnificent beech tree in our garden; stained glass windows in the Chapel if my mind is wandering; the shocking-red sunrises we get to see at this time of year
  • Communing with our cats, Tom and Jerry: Tom’s tummy, and Jerry’s dog-like behaviour
  • The crossword – not cryptic, in my case

Those are my cheerfulness drills: I suggested the twelve-year-olds make up their own list, organise their lives so that they look forward to these things, and enjoy. I’m sure you don’t need encouraging to do the same, but check you have your comfort blanket, too.

‘Peevishly complain’ in six letters, anyone?