There is a disused railway track that runs near the back of my house. As luck would have it, it runs pretty much from here, near the centre of town, to the schools my older children attend (back in the 70s, some forward-thinking town planner put three schools on the same area of land; one primary, one secondary comprehensive and one special school). It’s almost as if there was a joined-up transport plan, back in the day. In fact, I’ve never seen such large bicycle sheds in a school, such is the popularity of the bike, and the safe route to school around here.
If you didn’t know it was The Lines, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were, in fact cycling down a country lane. The hedgerows grow high, masking the urban landscape behind them, shielding the houses and gardens from the interested gaze of the passer by. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t notice the kinds of trees and bushes that grow in such mixed up profusion by the side of the path. Most of the time it is simply a bank of green, with the odd nettle thrown in, just to keep you away from the edge.
But every year, around the middle of September, the character changes. Instead of green, the foliage betrays flashes of colour. Instead of the flat, two-dimensional nature of the leaves, there is the round fatness of fruit.
People gather, tempted by the purple succulence of blackberries, hoping for jam or crumble; rosehips glow, scarlet and out of reach, high up in the tangle of brambles. But the one tree that fascinates me as I pass by, on my way to deliver or fetch Sam from his special school, is the one that stands behind, hidden so that to see it you really have to look, and whose harvest of pears lies, crushed and slowly rotting, untouched on the path below.
Whether or not the people of my town have no liking for pears I really couldn’t say. Perhaps this is a centre for blackberry and apple crumble as opposed to tarte tatin. Whatever it is, the pears lie, unwanted, upon the ground, fallen from their parent tree, their birthed perfection blemished by their tumble, turning from sweetness through the unmistakable aroma of heady wine, to the acid disappointment of vinegar.
I thought about those abandoned pears when I listened to Justine Greening, the new education secretary, giving evidence at the Education Select Committee this week. I thought about how everyone rushes to the blackberries, and leaves the pears behind, all their luscious promise coming to nothing, rotting on the ground. I thought about those pears, and I thought about children with SEND and I thought about this idea we bat around that all children deserve a decent education.
I thought about the narrative of social and economic disadvantage and I thought about the close connection between poverty and disability, and I wondered why, like the pears, SEND wasn’t on the table.