It’s a Sin — My “Special” School Days
New to this story? Start here with chapter one
Chapter 3: Virgin Voyage
There are of course exemptions to every rule and Mrs. Moore proved that rule. In our first senior year she introduced us to music, literature, the theatre.
It was through Mrs. Moore’s diligence I discovered my latent skill and love for writing, even though it took me for ever to punch my way through a story on an electric typewriter. Every sentence I constructed felt like a life sentence. X was the most worn-down key as I erased many spelling mistakes.
It was not until I went to college years later that I was introduced to an amanuensis who transcribed my thoughts. Suddenly, my imagination found its wings and learned to fly, my creativity took seed and would later flower through my poetry and prose.
I frequently wonder what I might have achieved if given that assistance earlier. As hopefully pupils with “specific needs” are given today.
As I said, she introduced us to theatre, taking us to see Gosforth Amateur Dramatic Society perform The Winslow Boy and other plays. Every time I see a reference to that play it reminds me fondly of Mrs. Moore.
Every Christmas she would commit to directing the senior classes’ Christmas play which was performed in front of admiring parents. We defined herding cats. Can you imagine trying to school a horde of petulant, uninspired, rebellious disabled teenagers into performing Charles Dickens’s ‘Oliver Twist’ and other classics? But by hook or by crook, every year, she managed to pull it off.
Another thing for which I shall be forever indebted to Mrs Moore for my first introduction to Social Justice. When we were in her class we would be paired up and sent to visit old people in their homes; thinking about this, it must have been one of the first villages for our elder citizens as it was a cul-de-sac of bungalows housing the elderly. Although for the life of me I can not tell you who my fellow pupils were on those visits, I can vividly recall Mr Nelson, a proud man, who must have been in his 80s or 90s. I sat there enthralled as he told me of his life, his days in the trenches, his life during the great depression. It obviously had a lasting impression upon me and sparked a passionate flame that still burns bright today.
So, to be fair not all my time then was doom and gloom, a waste of time; there were moments of light in an ocean of darkness.
Mrs. Moore was special in a good way, not in a “different” way.
The makeup of the school consisted of two elements those pupils that attended daily, as they lived within travelling distance of the school and those whose families and homes lived further afield. The catchment area of school covered at least four counties: Northumbria, Cumbria, Teesside, and parts of North Yorkshire.
My family home was in Brampton, a small market town in East Cumbria. When I first started school in 1969, I was the only child based in Cumbria, which meant that my dad would pick me up every Friday night and drop me off every Sunday night. Years later I found out he often got into trouble from work, for leaving early to pick me up in time. To me, this only shows my whole family’s commitment to ensure I maintained a secure and loving family connection and environment. Later when more pupils from the county started to attend the school a bus was provided by Cumbria Local Authority to ferry us across. To begin with my mum accompanied me, then as I grew older this was no longer necessary.
You must be aware that this is years before accessible transport became a reality, so I and others were physically lifted onto the bus. As a 10-year-old that would not have proven a problem, however, as a 15- or 16-year-old, that is a completely different matter; the strain on both those being lifted and those doing the lifting must have been immense.
As an aside we discovered that the bus was active long before the school informed my parents, which meant they endured the financial and physical strain for longer than was necessary. Another mark against the school pencilled into the family ledger.
Another detour coming up. During my time spent writing this blog, I watched “Silenced — A History of Disabled People”. I was horrified at some of the stories they told in that programme and I say this as someone who always prided myself in knowing our history which only goes to show how hidden and untold our history has remained.
Let’s be honest, in our classrooms, they hardly touched on world history never mind the history of Disabled People.
I hope my reminiscing can be my contribution to putting this omission right.
In this documentary, much was made of the exploits of Doctor Guttman in developing sport as a method of bringing equality closer. I know sport provided a good release for a lot of disabled people. For me who only ended up with bruised toes when trying to throw anything, it was far from a release, made worse by well-meaning teachers trying find something in sporting field that I could do. They soon discovered the only thing I could throw was a hissy fit.
Paul reminded me of a time when a school shooting club visited our school: they handed him a rifle and told him to shoot at the target. When he had a spasm and almost took out one of the instructors, they soon took the gun off him and had a swift rethink.
Which only goes to show that some people are better off holding conversations then guns and javelins. Such souls should be encouraged in the classroom not forced to scramble in the mud where they are a danger to themselves and others.
When it came to playing on the school playing field, I was relegated to the role of observer not participant. The only time I was invited onto the playing area, was when the more ambulant boys needed my wheelchair as a goalpost, in football, or wickets in cricket. On both occasions I remained in my chair, very dangerous pastimes.
When I was born, my delivery resembled more a reluctant calf entering the world then a bouncing baby boy. I was dragged out screaming if not kicking, they pulled me out by my ankles which resulted in both my hips being dislocated.
Years later a consultant spotted this and decided to rectify it. He was our very own Dr Mengele. Mr Ellis was his name, his face and name shall send shivers down my spine until I draw my final breath.
So, aged nine, I ended up in the Royal Victoria Hospital my legs plastered apart for three months. Watching the Banana Splits, listening to Dana sing ‘I beg your pardon’ on the hospital radio. I have hated that song and singer ever since.
My mum spent the whole time with me. We were both imprisoned there. I remember my sister telling me that time had an adverse effect on her, and she resented the fact that I had mum’s full attention.
It resulted in me having a curvature of the spine. Let me explain.
When I finally got out of that torture, Mr Ellis wanted me to repeat the process for my other hip. When I told him in no uncertain terms, “that hell would freeze over before I’d let him near my hips again”, he begged and pleaded with me and my parents to get me to reconsider, saying that I’d suffer later on in life. He was right, but I refused to be moved. I guess that was my first act of rebellion, there were many more to follow.
New to this story? Start here with chapter one#socialChange #SpecialEducation #Robert