Finding Mum: A Beginning

‘All facts, however microscopic, are important in the building of real history.’

E L B Blanchard

‘Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects.’

Herodotus, The History of Herodotus

The Birth

SCENE – early evening in the February of 1934, the kitchen of a docker’s cottage in the East End of London. The kitchen is empty except for a young man dozing by the fire. 
“Dick, Dick!” A scream wrenched Dick awake and he leapt up and across the kitchen in one movement, pulling open the door to find his sister trembling in the passageway. 
“Lord Jesus, Dudie, what’s happened to you?” He followed her gaze to the pool of liquid spreading around her feet. 
“I don’t know! Get Ma, get Ma!” Stella’s words ended in another feral scream and bracing herself against the wall, she lent forward, clutching her belly. Struggling to think through the remnants of sleep, Dick rubbed his head and frowned. 
“She aint here, Dudie, she’s … Lord, here!” He grabbed her arm and pulled her into the kitchen, looking frantically over his shoulder as he backed himself in. Still holding his sister with his right hand, he grabbed the coal bucket with his left and tipped its contents in a pile on the hearth. “Here, sit on this for a minute” he ordered, placing the bucket under her. 
“I’m dying, Dick, I’m dying!” Stella screamed, hysterically. “Lord help me, its blood!” 
“Nah, you’ll not die just yet, gel,” Dick tried to laugh, though his eyes were wide and his pale young face betrayed his doubt. “It looks like yer baby’s coming, that’s all.”

Crouching uncomfortably over the bucket, her hand gripping into Dick’s shoulder and her body bent forward, Stella turned her tear-stained face away in shame. 

“I want Ma!” she sobbed noisily. “Where is she, Dick? Get her for me, I need her!” 
“I can’t, Dudie, I can’t.” Dick reached up and rubbed his sister’s hand aimlessly. “She won’t be back for hours.  She’s gone to a lying in…” His words trickled away and he listened to Stella’s sobs for a time, trying to work out what best to do. The old woman next door would be useless; she was semi-invalid and deaf as a post besides. And he wasn’t sure what reaction he’d get from his older sisters, even if he was able to find them at home.

Stella groaned suddenly and throwing her head forward, vomited onto the floor. That decided him.
“We’re going to the infirmary,” he stated, “it’s the best place for you.” He snatched a drying-up cloth from the fire-front and gently wiped his young sister’s face. 
“I aint goin’ to the workhouse, Dick, I aint goin’ to the workhouse!” Stella whimpered, shaking with weakness and fright. 
“You aint got no choice, Dudie. Ma aint here, nor the gels, and I can’t help you with the baby. I don’t know what to do!” He shivered at the thought. “Besides, you know Ma said she don’t want nuffin to do with it.” He brushed the damp fringe from her eyes, cooing soothingly. “You’ll be alright, gel, you’ll be alright. I’ll look after yer. Don’t I always?”

The walk through the dark streets to the infirmary was a difficult one, though the distance was short and Stella such a slight thing that Dick had no trouble supporting her tiny body. But every few yards Stella’s stomach clenched in spasms of pain and she’d stop and tense herself against it, waiting for it to let her free. By the time they entered the porter’s lodge of the old workhouse, their hands had been numbed by the bitter wind, their faces stung by the sharp, icy rain.

“Are you the father?” Glancing quickly from Dick to Stella’s hand and back to the ledger, the duty nurse wrote down the particulars with a stern, efficient manner. She moved round the table and, putting one hand under Stella’s elbow and another on her back, began to shepherd her along the dim, sterile corridor. “Dick? Dick!” Stella looked over her shoulder, her eyes pleading with her brother to follow. “He can’t come any further,” the nurse’s clipped tones bounced back off the walls. “Let’s not have any fuss. We’re to take care of you, now.”

© A S Mott, 2011

On Changing Trends in Education

Offspring 2 (I can call him ‘child’ no longer) left it till almost midnight to put clean bedding on his bed last night, and mindful that he was tired and that the time we will spend together is decreasing alarmingly before my very eyes, I offered to give him a hand.  We pillow-cased a pillow each, then stood on either side of the huge bed that replaced his boyhood single, to stretch the sheet over the corners of the mattress.  By the time it came to the duvet, his phone had announced a message and I began the quilt alone, tucking a corner into the Union Jack cover and handing it to him to hold in place whilst I tried to tuck in the others.  But I’d done it all wrong and was making a right mess of it.
‘I usually turn it inside out to do it,’ he said, finishing a message with his thumb and putting his phone in his pocket.  ‘Here, let me.’ And he took the lumped-up mass of duvet back out, flipped the cover inside out and with a flick of the hands that Dynamo would’ve been proud of, had the cover on the quilt in a flash.
‘Mrs Chirp taught me that,’ he beamed proudly.  ‘When we went on residential.’
‘Fancy that,’ I said.  ‘All those years ago.’
‘Yup, residential was cool.’
‘Yes,’ I agreed, ‘and so’s Mrs Chirp.’
Only the day before I had sat in at a café having a half-term hot chocolate with Mrs Chirp and a crowd of other former colleagues from the school which gave my son such an excellent education.  Like me, all were employed there in a supporting role – specialist teachers, admin staff, cover supervisors and teaching assistants.  We were, as someone once termed it, ‘extra bodies in the class’. Like me, the greater majority of the group no longer work in the school, their jobs deleted through budget cuts, shifting government priorities and the pursuit of the latest trends for educating children. 
Those still in post spend less and less time interacting with individual children.  It’s fair to say that morale is low. 
Educational fads come and go, often with a new change of government and the subsequent need to be seen to ‘improve standards’.  Some of these fads will be successful and some of them won’t.  It seems to me, though, that success has more to do with the skills of the people delivering them than the actual schemes themselves.  Good teachers generally manage to teach successfully, no matter which system they’re required to use.  It’s such a shame they’re not trusted enough to simply get on with it.
I personally believe that a lot of the problems with education could be solved by having two teachers in every classroom.  Children learn by talking and doing, and whilst much of this can be implemented through group work with their peers, all children benefit from regular one-to-one interaction with caring, informed adults who have the skills, knowledge and ability to pass on what they know.  It’s simple, really.  The more adults there are in a classroom, the more attention each individual child within it receives.  The positive effect on mental health and wellbeing is huge, too.  We’re social creatures who thrive on interaction and connection, and whether we’re grown-ups or children, working alongside someone who listens to us, knows a bit about us and can give us help when we need it is priceless.
The more interaction a child has with such an adult, the more they will learn from them, whether that’s practice in reading, learning the continents of the world or knowing how to find information they need in a library or on the computer.  Or how to put a cover on a duvet, even.

I’d like to thank Mrs Chirp and the many others who’ve had a hand in my son’s education, for the part they’ve played in developing the wonderful, witty and knowledgeable young man that he is.