1. “This will cheer him up. Eric Idle singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

2. “I kept within my budget of £20.”

3. “What is your view of Hitler?”

4. “Ah … 1927. Must have been amazing to be alive then. The year the Ford Model A was invented.”

5. “Miss, do you know Sam got out of the car to pick blackberries when we slowed right down then got back in again?”

6. “F**k off.”

7. “I’ll report you if you keep on trying to make me do work!”

8. “Any chance of a coffee?”

9. “I want to cry.”

10. “But can you eat mince pies?”

Just to add a layer of meaning to these memories of mine: number 1 was a student’s reaction to hearing that the mother of a fellow student had, sadly, died unexpectedly. And actually, the sentiment was surprisingly appreciated by the bereaved. These students may be unorthodox, but they totally get what floats each others’ boats. Number 2 was the very real pride felt by a student when he was trusted with his own money to buy himself a treat or two from a sweet shop. Perhaps we can halve his budget next time … Number 8 has become a common theme and we’re running with that one seeing as coffee is arguably a lesser evil than some other drugs. Number 9 was the verbal manifestation of the sorry state of a student’s heart straight after it had been mashed up and puréed and number 10 was the concern shown by a student on hearing that there were some sugary foods forbidden from my consumption. The others are fairly self-explanatory.

I’ve worked at this secondary school for students with dyslexia for three years. Beforehand, I worked at an EBD school for one year. Before that, I was in a mainstream school that had a special needs annexe and before that I was in mainstream. So, as you can see, my move into special needs has been gradual and, I have to admit, unintentional.

“It must be so rewarding!” people say.

If the comment comes from a well-meaning person with no experience of working with other people whose view of the world is unfathomably different from theirs, the remark tends to grate somewhat. Dyslexia often co-exists with another difficulty and/or a behaviour problem and I have learnt as much during my three years at this school as the students. I have encountered conditions whose existence previously eluded my knowledge and I have witnessed the challenges faced by students whose learning difficulties require different approaches to learning that a mainstream school would struggle to provide. I am in awe of dyslexics who have to compensate, daily, for the missing connections in their brains and it is an absolute joy to see them succeed but also to embrace their differences, because that is what makes them who they are. I don’t even like to call their differences ‘difficulties’ because who am I to say that they are the ones who deviate from the ‘norm’, whatever that is? But it is semantics and I am addressing an audience of whom most – in likelihood – are not dyslexic. So yes, it has been rewarding, but not without considerable sacrifice. Convincing these young people that they can do it – and that there are benefits to having such a difficulty – is the hardest part. Our curriculum is mainstream – not reduced – and the expectations are the same as if they were in mainstream, because their difficulties are ‘specific’, which, in laymen’s terms, is mild. Until this term, I taught English; but for this term only, I have been working with the sixth formers whose time is split between studying for post-16 qualifications at local colleges and being supported in a range of ways by us. All the quotes above come from them and the investment in time, effort, emotion, patience, resilience and huge efforts to empathise, have been worth it for the return, if only to realise that you are having a proper conversation about whose cover of The Beatles’ ‘Across The Universe’ is the best, with a teenager who was throwing GCSE textbooks across the classroom a year ago.

In my last blog post, I hinted at a sense of impending relief at the thought of leaving. There are aspects to this temporary role that I will be glad to be leaving behind. But there are more aspects that I will miss. I miss most of the students already, because previously, I taught throughout the school and it has been distressing to see those students everyday and not be teaching them. I already miss my old department. I will miss the sixth formers, most of whom I taught GCSE English and I will miss being a part of the community with the added benefit of comprising aesthetically stunning olde worlde buildings, nestled in an area of breathtaking beauty.

We continually invest throughout our lives.

The emotional investment when working in a special needs school is mammoth, but even though the return may seem, at times, poor, in comparison, there are returns which you must grab hold of, appreciate and enjoy. Students grasping difficult concepts, over-achieving at GCSE (or just achieving), telling you they don’t want you to leave; if you don’t bask in the glory of these returns when they come your way, then you are missing the point.

My investment in the school itself is different. My return was to get paid and then, ultimately, to be made redundant. Not quite the return I expected.

I have invested in relationships which have ended. Several months have passed now, since my relationship with the Rastafarian ended. I invested a lot into that relationship: all the usual relationship investment, like love, time, effort and support. But, as you know, if you have followed my blog, too many tangible investments also, like £2.5k and a horn of plenty of food, lifts, Kronenbourg and tobacco. I do not doubt that he had some feelings for me; I don’t think I have an abhorrent personality and I’ve been told that I scrub up well, but my investments outweighed my returns by far. The most memorable return was to be cheated on, frankly. I turned to him once for emotional support and was shocked to discover that he was incapable of providing it, despite the cornucopian emotional support I provided.

There are many students at my workplace who are diagnosed with ASC (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and I constantly try to look at the world through their eyes. Of course, there is nothing wrong with their eyes; it is their perception that is vastly different from ours. To be in a state of bafflement about many things, must be … well, I don’t know, if I’m honest. I don’t want to sound patronising and assume that my perception is superior, because I am not baffled, but conversely, I want to acknowledge that things are tough for the autistic person. Like my peers, I have undergone training, inset days, courses and achieved qualifications in the studies of both dyslexia and autism. I feel I know more than most about such things, but I cannot possibly know what it is like to be either. My brush with dyslexia is the length of time it takes me to figure out my right from my left. I guess if I multiply that by infinity, it might be what it is like to be dyslexic. My brush with autism is my association of colours with days of the week, the attribution of personalities to numbers and my propensity towards OCD. Again, I would need to do something drastic with that, like take it to the ends of time in order to get a sense of what it is really like to be autistic. However, I do find myself baffled by my world sometimes. Please take note of the word ‘my’; not ‘the’. Everyone, surely, is baffled by ‘the’ world, but most people cope (just about) with their own worlds. My current bafflement concerns people. Everything can be great one day; and everything can be seriously not great the next. Sometimes, on waking in the morning, I get a very crisp sense of having just got back from some escapade. I open my eyes with a ‘bang’ and think ‘phew … just made it’ but I attribute this to a trick of my senses. But maybe I do go somewhere in the night … maybe I spend my nights sabotaging relationships, whether they are friendships or otherwise, because again, there are times when I feel that my investment in a relationship has gone down one big metaphorical plughole. No – make that a sinkhole.

Again, if you have followed my blog, you will know that I have invested considerable chunks of my time to Open Mic. I rehearsed with my first accompanist for some months before we hit the Open Mic circuit (or so I thought) only for him to bail after just one night of Open Mic. I attended the next one on my own and sang a Capella, thereby gaining two alternative possible accompanists. Possible Accompanist Number 1 seemed keen and we had several interchanges via email, to discuss potential songs to perform together. To date, we have played at no Open Mics. Possible Accompanist Number 2 seemed keen also and we have rehearsed A LOT and, to be fair, played at several Open Mics, hence his elevation to just ‘Accompanist’. But we haven’t played together as often as I would have liked; it has been mostly at pubs of his choice and we have rehearsed an awful lot more than we have performed. One of my shower songs (songs good for singing in the shower, for the shower-singing virgins) is Thinking of No-one But Me from the musical ‘Me and my Girl ( ). It has the line: ‘a little investment and plenty of return’. Well, my experiences with Accompanist have been the polar opposite: ‘plenty of investment and a little return’. Must blow the dust off that that guitar of mine …

Lastly, I have invested most of my free time since the summer in a project that I have enjoyed immensely. I gave my time freely and it seemed appreciated. But sadly, just as the project took off like a big, shiny space shuttle into boundless success, my services no longer seemed required. I thought I was on the rocket; I don’t know how I could have got it so wrong. I guess I was Ground Control to everyone else’s Major Tom.

When one has been rejected, or, actually, to be more emotive, abandoned, one is vulnerable. It is easy to see how one’s self-esteem can be affected. Friends and family rally round and tell you how ‘you’re worth more than that’ etc and it is important to hear those words. I am very appreciative of the support I received in the early days of my (now) ex-husband leaving and I feel I’ve recovered somewhat. But sadly, there’s a whole other world out there, just heaving with people who can’t wait to polarise the view presented by one’s support network, knowingly or not. Our self-esteems are precious indeed and I have reached the conclusion that the only people in whose hands they are safe, are our own. Decisions protect our self-esteem. Many people call me scatty or ‘ditzy’, but one friend recently challenged this and called me a romantic. Who knows, but I can see his point. I think it takes me a long time to learn from my mistakes, a bit like Ed Sheeran and Michael Buble (if their songs are to be believed) which gives rise to the scattiness/’ditziness’ tag but essentially, without wishing to boast, I think I am an optimist. Up until recently, I have found it easy to move on and start afresh with renewed hope, which gives rise to the ‘romantic’ tag, but I fear that some of that optimism has become tarnished with a smattering of cynicism. Actually, it is more serious than that. I was holding onto that optimism so tightly that I crushed it.

It isn’t really a decision to stop investing. I don’t think I have anything left to invest.


Not My Moment

“Everybody’s time has come … It’s everybody’s moment, except yours”

Once upon a time, when the days of jeteeing across scratchy stages were not quite so far in the dim and distant past, I could find a song from a musical to reflect most situations, until my very young children pleaded to not have all my conversation set to music. At some point, ‘Friends’ replaced that point of reference and I found myself saying, a little too often, it’s like that episode of ‘Friends’, where … And then would ensue some comparison between my current situation and some engineered situation in ‘Friends’. I did not need any small children to tell me that this was becoming like a stuck record, so I held back the ‘Friends’ references for the foreseeable future. Now I have Regina Spektor. This Russian-American singer/songwriter has written and sung a diverse collection of songs, covering wacky topics such as the imprisonment of rowboats in classical paintings to her fascination with the life of the man whose wallet she found. Wonderful to fall in love with the music of someone who does not continually spew forth musings on broken hearts and broken people. She does a little of this, which is appreciated, but set to unpredictable melodies with an unconventional collection of instruments. Hence I can usually think of a Regina Spektor song that encompasses my mood, situation or current take on life.

The opening words of my blog are lyrics from one of her songs, ‘Tornadoland’ – – and they struck a chord with me when I was listening to her latest album. I would not be as self-piteous as to think that it is everyone else’s moment currently, but it certainly is not ‘my moment’. At present, there is not a single facet of my life that is having its moment.

In a few weeks I will leave my workplace forever. I am redundant. Rejection is hard. I felt sad at the prospect of leaving in the summer term, but then I was reinstated until Christmas and for this past term I have not been doing the job for which I was employed. To say it has not been an easy ride would be an understatement; it has been a ride through the rockiest terrain, facing adversity from every quarter, riding a horse ill-equipped for the journey. It has been the source of many tears and so, despite my overall feeling of rejection and concern over paying the mortgage, the fact that there are just a few weeks left of this, is comforting. There are some things I shall miss, like the students, but we teachers have to learn to live with the relatively short-lived nature of the relationships we work so hard to forge with hormone-fuelled adolescents who are trying to figure out what sort of people they want to be.

I am struggling to stay on the same page as my accompanist, who, incidentally, is my third one. Never mind my guitar gently weeping; I’m weeping over the dust it is gathering in the corner of my room. I had one lesson, then was ill for two weeks (half-term was one long feverish sleep wrapped up in my duvet, while morning seeped into the afternoon which drifted into the evening, which got overshadowed by the night, which was too long and quiet for someone who then could not sleep) and forgot everything. In case that was not clear, I bought a guitar so that I could accompany myself but I appear to have lost some intrinsic thing that was pushing me to become an active part of Open Mic instead of being an onlooker on the fringe. Maybe I lost my mojo. Maybe I never had one.

Don’t worry. I have no intention of working my way through every aspect of my life and indicating to you how far it falls short of having its moment. How very dull that would be. There was a fair bit I did not like about myself when I was very young. I was very shy and although I did not have a bad stammer, I was prone to stammering when I really did not want to be stammering. Well, no-one ever wants to stammer, but there are times when you really want to be fluent and articulate and of course, those are the times when you stammer. But I didn’t have much confidence anyway, so with or without a stammer, I doubt I would have spoken a great deal more. I was never in an ‘in-crowd’ but I worked very hard and was liked by teachers. Probably one of the reasons I was never in an in-crowd! I went on to secondary school and continued to be very quiet, but then discovered the theatre at the age of fourteen. It turned out to be my thing and although I do not have much interest in treading the boards anymore, it unlocked a door to a dimension whose existence had hitherto eluded me. Books had so far provided me with the opportunity to live other people’s lives and feel other people’s feelings, but this was total immersion in people that weren’t me, emotions I had never felt (and may never feel) and a re-enactment of the stuff of dreams. It irks me that governments do not value the expressive arts as they should. Teachers have children’s holistic development in their hands and bigoted, narrow-minded ministers make decisions that fuel this archaic system of education that values the churning out of under-graduates instead. Ken Robinson puts the case forward better than me, so check out his talks on Ted Talks, notably ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ But anyway, the point is that the theatre is one of the things that feeds the soul and it turns out that that is quite important. I’ve done some cool stuff in my lifetime. The coolest stuff is, of course, bringing my children into the world. I do not mean the actual process; moreover that they are, simply, the best things in my life and in my world and not just because they are my children. They actually deserve that accolade. Ok … proud mum-on-a-soap-box moment over.

But there are, of course, areas of my life with which I have been and still am disillusioned. I have filled those gaps in the past with theatrical polyfilla. It is not an easy concept to impart to others, but as an example, if your love life fails to fulfil you, then it helps to play characters with exciting amorous exploits woven into their lives. Or if you struggle with self-esteem, then it’s kinda fun to play a party animal. I do not have the theatre anymore as a back-up. But I can still go the theatre; or a more accessible hobby to try living other people’s lives is watching movies. On the one hand, it can be a dangerous past-time because of the false hope you are at risk from building up, about the potential success of your life. But once you have accepted the impossible dream of the world of movies, it softens the blow of disappointment. I would have thought that seeing Hollywood romances and fairy-tale endings on the silver screen would be devastating to the person suffering from terminal disappointment. But it really is not. I love a dark movie; a sad movie; a movie that sends me plummeting to the very depths of despair. But I also love a fairy-tale romance; those stylised pieces from the Golden Age of Hollywood; coy flirting and cliched gazes into each other’s eyes. At the end of such movies, I have a slice of that giddy feeling associated with the uplifting rush of being in love. I wonder if other people get it … I expect so. Anyway, I do and I am grateful. I watch a lot of movies, which is just as well because I review them for a website: Funnily enough, most of them do not involve Hollywood romances! But if I watched them all the time, then I wouldn’t appreciate my heart skipping a beat when Gene Kelly or Alan Bates told me he loved me. I mean his leading lady …