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Strictly Come Elections

Sam and I watched Prime Ministers Questions yesterday while we were eating our lunch (or rather, I watched it, and Sam tolerated my watching it while he scoffed a hot dog; thankfully, the other two were out, playing with friends, so I was released from the bonds of ‘boring’). I haven’t watched it for a while, and I don’t suppose he ever has, him being at school on Wednesday lunchtimes, and I was curious to see how it would go, all things considered.

I find it fascinating, I have to admit. On the one hand, there are the showtime set pieces, where opposing leaders insult and try to catch each other out, and on the other, there are questions about bin collection, dog mess and charity walkers on stilts, in aid of the learning disabled. For a national stage, it is disarmingly parochial.

Yesterday, there was quite a lot of shouting (but no paper waving that I noticed, and not much laughter, despite the rather forced comedy of Mr MC Speaker), and Sam waited politely for the applause to stop, and the action, in the form of questions, to start.

I had thought that he was more interested in the application of his tomato ketchup and wasn’t really watching, until, that is, a certain woman stood up to speak and called the Prime Minister a liar. At first, I thought it was the school-marmly way she did it (clearly, she has had a lot of experience, either in the giving or the receiving of tellings off) that caught his interest, until he sat up straight, eyes a-twinkle (he has very twinkly eyes, especially when he is amused), pointed at the screen and exclaimed, ‘Ed Balls! Ed Balls from Strictly!’

I have to admit that I never thought that fan-dom of Strictly Come Dancing would mark the beginning of my son’s political education, but there you go. Unlike me, a child of the Spitting Image generation, who bewails the fact that nobody is recognisable any more, thanks to the loss of political satire via the medium of puppets, he recognised a politician thanks to her connection with a different world entirely.

Sometimes I wonder what he takes in, when we sit around the tea table, discussing events of the day. A is beginning to join in; his sense of fairness adding to a growing sense of social justice. L rolls her eyes and declares, ‘boring’, although I know, through her concern for her friends, that she is not immune to the concept, either. But Sam; he remains my dark horse, as he keeps his counsel, and concentrates on dinner (or tea).

But he reminded me of something important yesterday, as we chuckled together over Yvette Cooper and her smiling, rolling eyes at the nation cheering, spangled antics of her over enthusiastic husband last autumn. He reminded me that I needed to carry on challenging lazy assumptions, because his life, and his future, matters.

He reminds me to ask you to ask your local candidates what they will do to support disabled people and whether they have read the UN disability convention.

He reminds me to ask you to ask your local candidates what they think of segregation in schools on the grounds of academic ability, and its flip side, inclusion.

His presence, and mine, reminds me to ask you to ask your local candidates what they will do to protect our National Health Services – because without a shadow of a doubt, illness or disability, learning or otherwise, can, and will happen to us all.

Becuase, in the end, bad things do indeed happen to good people; our frailty is part of who we are as humans. And our descision is how we respond to that.

Together? Or alone?

Passport

“It is a hell of a responsibility to be yourself. It’s much easier to be somebody else, or nobody at all.” Sylvia Plath

I’ve been doing quite a bit of Sorting Out lately.  First, it was the Teaching Resources.  When I went back to work after my long baby break, I re-started a collection that I threw out, not long after Baby Number Two. I wasn’t going back, I decided, and so, all those lovingly hand drawn worksheets, detailing various aspects of the Tudors, or the Egyptians, made their way, as it were, to the classroom in the sky. (I kept a fair amount of the books, it has to be said; you never know when you might need to rustle up a quick spelling activity or build a Saxon Hall with toilet roll inner tubes.) It didn’t take long to fill ten or so box files. I’m terrible at throwing things out (see above), and I hate waste. The last four years have seen me better at keeping things to a minimum, but still.

Our coming house move has been the catalyst for my uncharacteristic sorting. Once the worksheets were gone, I turned my attention to the filing cabinet. An annoying piece of furniture, stuffed in a difficult to reach corner, it has been easier, for the last ten years, to pile the ever-growing number of letters and other bits of Useful Paper Based Information relating to three children, on top of it, rather than attempt to wrestle with the Hanging Files That Fall Apart At The Slightest Touch. I decided, as I had about ten or so empty box files, that I would transfer the contents of the filing cabinet to said box files (we won’t have room for it when we move, anyway) and do some Sorting Out while I was at it.

It’s been a worthwhile exercise (despite R’s protestations).  We have discovered the whereabouts of a fair number of important documents (along with several that were important in 2011 but are no longer), had a good discussion about pensions (confusing and depressing at the same time) and had (or rather, I have) a lovely trip down memory lane.

I didn’t feel it was necessary to keep hold of all of Sam’s old Statements, and the three or four draft EHCPs we received last winter. I haven’t kept every letter from every paediatrician or visit of the school nurse to check his hearing, although I have kept the first – the educational psychologist report and my original parental statement make interesting, and, to me anyway, somewhat heart-rending reading; one day I’ll tell you about it. I like to keep significant documents, papers that represent a turning or a starting point.

I’ve got the lovely little booklets that came from nursery, a record of a learning journey, a blast from the past that went in a flash, gobbled up by school runs and tea times and bed time and bath times. I look at them, I read the comments, and I see snatches of the people they are now; I am assailed by memory, of the time we went to Cornwall with grandad and took Macey, the class cuddly toy, the play-doh picnic and snow that came over the top of wellies.  A record of the baby years, gone, but not forgotten.

And in amongst the letters and the school reports, the certificates of birth and marriage and the last will and testament of me and him, is a plastic pocket (I am a primary teacher, after all) containing passports. A and I looked at them together, marvelling at the size of the official dark blue, at his resemblance to his father, from an age before I knew him, and to me, a photographic record of change in ten year jumps. (The VERY NICE man at the Post Office told me last time how little I’d changed. I don’t think he’ll say the same next time, that’s for sure.)

There she sits, shyly giving a half-smile to the boxed camera, wondering what the future has in store, and I wonder that she is me. Or at least, she was.

Doublespeak

It’s been a long time since I read Orwell’s 1984.  My friend Allie, who used to have room 101 at college, had a quote from it photocopied and stuck to her door (I had a Jacky Fleming one and a the obligatory sheet of paper for my friends to leave the obligatory ‘I came to see you and you were out’ message on) and, at the time, I smiled, but I didn’t really know what she was talking about.  I had had Animal Farm read to me as a class story when I was in Year 6, but that was about as far as my knowledge of Orwell went at the time.  I was more of a Jane Austen kind of girl.

I did read it though, a while after I met her, accompanied by its feminist partner, The Handmaid’s Tale, one rainy summer when I had a job selling ice-creams (there wasn’t much to do), chuckling to myself at the snatched memory of my parents, in the real 1984, saying that they never thought they would ever reach the year, that now that they were 41 it didn’t seem so old.  When I read it (them), the dystopian image of a life controlled by Big Brother (which wasn’t a TV show), or by your membership of the female sex, it seemed to me to describe a fantastical world; an impossibility.  I was young.

Today, though, it is doublespeak, rather than Big Brother or Room 101, that I find most striking. The news is no longer the news (it is fake). The truth is no longer the truth (it’s not even relative). Social mobility doesn’t mean to be socially mobile (as personified by that much derided character, Hyacinth Bouquet/Bucket), but to be a certain kind of poor (the deserving). And, of most interest to me; inclusion doesn’t mean inclusion, quite the opposite in fact.

I can see why people want to use the term. It makes us feel nice, especially when we apply it to ourselves, or stick it up on a sign or a flyer, illustrated by smiling, cartoon children.  We are morally in the right, in a right on kind of way.  It is not quite the opposite of exclusive, which somehow means special and desirable, an honour bestowed upon the few (like advance notice of a discount or a new season, something that pops into your inbox, glistening with the temptation to part from your hard-earned cash and be the first from the starting blocks in the fashion stakes), a strange sort of justification of yourself as a shopper, or a parent. Instead, to be inclusive speaks to us of welcome.  There are no bouncers here, checking that you are on The List.

And, of course, inclusion is intertwined with notions of disability. To run an inclusive activity, or to be an inclusive school or church, it means that you welcome (or you say you do) disabled children and young people and their families, whether they are in a wheelchair or not; everyone, in fact.

Except, somehow, it doesn’t.  Somehow, an inclusive activity has come to mean one for disabled people (but only if you are the right kind).  An inclusive school is the one where all the disabled children go. An inclusion unit, a space within a mainstream school, has become the place where you send someone (those pesky disabled kids, the undeserving ones who have slippery labels they just won’t obey), not to keep them in, but to get them out.

We say all the right things, but somehow, it feels empty. It all feels a bit too much like doublespeak to me.

 

In my own words : Sam #WDSD17

Reproduced with permission for World Down’s syndrome Day.

Where I live : T

Who I live with : mum and daddy my sister L and brother A.

What enjoy : playing with cars and going to grandma’s house. I like going shopping and watching tv and dvds and going to the park.  I love to play with my Eddie Stobart and listen to music and read.

What am I good at : I am good.

These are some of the photos Sam has taken with my old phone.  We hope you like them

Free Knitting

My mum is the sort of woman who is always learning. From a post-graduate diploma in theology to typing, to Shakespeare’s Women or Jane Austen’s Men; she always has something on the go.  The latest was Free Knitting. She went away for a couple of nights in half term, ready to be inspired by learning something new into a creative outburst. She is currently, when she isn’t off swimming or volunteering at a charity cafe or visiting family and/or friends, to be found under a pile of yarn in varying states of fluff, knitted into triangles she tells me she will turn into a bag, or a cushion cover, or something.

Now, I can knit (although I find it difficult to maintain the level of concentration you need to achieve success over the long term); I quite like the feeling of warmth that steals over you as the fabric grows into something you hope will be shapely and usable. But I have no desire to immerse myself in handicrafts. One reasonably successful knitted nativity, and I feel I have paid my dues to yarn.

But she has given me an idea. It’s something I have been mulling over for a while, a return to telling stories. Not the stories of the reality of life as it happens to me and my family, stories of Sam, but fiction.

I’ve been turning the idea over in my mind, that of creating a character with Down’s syndrome, someone in a story who doesn’t exists merely as a plot device, but who has real agency; a character without whom the story wouldn’t happen. The point at which the world turns.

I might know how the story will start, but I have no idea how it will end, or the journey it will take in between the two.  Usually, when I write, I have it all planned out. I know the who and the why and the when, what brings them together and what drives them apart. Usually, I have at least an idea of where I am going and what I hope to achieve.

This time it’s different. This time I intend to free myself from conventional confines and find out if, instead of forcing out a narrative, a puppeteer playing a particular tune, the story is hiding inside, asking me to take the time to find it, to piece together the triangles, as it were, and form them into something new.

So I’ve started a new blog. I don’t know how often the posts will come, only that they, slightly scarily, will.