Life & Culture

Wedding,work…and a world to save

It's been a hectic week for Emma Shevah


It’s possible I’d forgotten how hectic my job is, but this week I didn’t breathe until Saturday morning. Not properly. I made up for it by sighing deeply and repeatedly all weekend like someone in a pre-natal class. We went back to school, you see. I’m Head of Year 13 (Upper Sixth in old money) so we have the A level cancellation assessment data and evidence gathering headache, plus I have Ucas and the programme of summer activities, yearbook and leavers’ hoodies to deal with (cue countless emails with ‘Sorry, Madam, can I have no zip instead of full zip, small not medium and veni vidi vici on the sleeve instead of my name?’). They call us Madam. You get used to it after a while.

The unforeseen furniture moving, office sharing, loud drilling and fire exit walk-throughs, and the very foreseen forthcoming-assessment anxiety among students — plus, you know, the teaching of my actual subject — mean it’s been a week. And that’s just at school.

April 22 was Earth Day. It’s not as lauded as it should be seeing as we all live on this planet and need it for our survival. My fifth novel for children, How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg, came out on April 1, so I duly created a video and resources for the “social media buzz” pencilled in. I was supposed to big it up on Twitter and Instagram but in between endless hoodie emails, office chaos and fire drills, I retweeted twice (don’t tell my publicist).

A new novel means reviews, which have been pleasingly positive. I’m delighted but you don’t always get told about them, so you stalk your book on the web for anything new. This is a little drug-like: critics loving your book makes all that hard work (and your RSI) worth it (almost) and this writer feel high and happy. The high was dampened by the stomach knot and exhaustion, but you can’t have it all.

I haven’t mentioned the wedding yet. I’m sure plenty of other people are trying to plan a wedding in a pandemic but doing it in Israel adds that extra edge. When our astonishingly delightful daughter got engaged in November to an astonishingly delightful man, the country was entering a semi lockdown. Things were not looking good. They chose a probable August date and her father-in-law-to-be called on Black Friday: flights were on sale. They were booking, and I should, too.

Course I should. Who doesn’t love a deal?

But I couldn’t. This was pre the vaccination programme. Israeli wedding venues weren’t open. Where would we hold it? For how many? Unlike us, my mother doesn’t have an Israeli passport. Would she be able to fly? Would there be quarantine? Would hotels be open? What about my other kids who’d stay longer to see their Israeli family — when should I book their flights for? What about our guests?

January arrived and with it, full lockdown. I taught from home for three months. The wedding was still on. Allegedly. Not that we had a venue yet.

We needed flights. I put them in an online basket, but I couldn’t click submit. Staring at the screen, I called my Israeli former husband. “I can’t do it,” I said. “What if this happens? What if that happens?”

“Waaaallah,” he said, chewing something. Imagine a thick Hebrew accent. No, thicker than that, even. “Your dotta get merried. You no go’ be there? You have to come. Nu? What to do?” (She’s his daughter, too. He always says that. You get used to it after a while.)

He was right. I clicked submit. I bought two more for my other kids (the fourth is studying in Jerusalem), and felt queasy.

Then Ofqual announced the A level results date. Schools will get them the day after the wedding, which means serious meetings. I should be at school that day. Great.

Fast forward to April and we have a venue. We still don’t know about the other stuff. And now rockets are falling and tensions are rising. Will it escalate? Calm down?

Pfffffffff (that’s me, breathing).

That extra edge?

You get used to it after a while.


How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg is published by Chicken House Books

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