Looking at it from a purely personal and intensely human perspective, what I really didn’t need, after the agonies of the past year, was for another horrible, heartbreaking tragedy to affect one of my children.

He’d had a tough few years, with broken trust and unrequited love and affection and then the pain of watching his sister, nephew and niece go through all they’ve been through and by mid summer, he was deep in the abyss of anxiety and depression.  He worked so hard to pull himself out – therapy, counselling, even meds, when all else seemed to be failing.  Then he announced that he’d found a solution.  He would get a cat.

Now we’ve not been a pet-owning family.  There was the rabbit, when they were kids, but none of them took much notice of it, once the novelty had worn off, and it was left to me to care for it.  Still, he was set on this plan and duly acquired the most adorable little kitten.  He lavished money and endless affection on the little scrap and the kitten adored him back.  The pain and darkness left my son’s eyes and he positively quivered with the love he felt for his tiny pet.  We all remarked on the change it had made to his life.  The urge to care for something small and helpless was so strong in him – the parenting urge, if you like – that, once it was fulfilled, he threw himself back into his job and his life again and was the happy, resilient young man he’d been before.

Was there some seed of doubt and concern lurking just below the surface in my mind?  I watched them playing together and thought, “Oh I just hope that cat lasts a long, long time.  He’s such a central part of my boy’s life.”  But as I thought it and willed it to happen, I couldn’t visualise it.  I couldn’t see the kitten as an adult cat and the two of them moving together into a contented middle age.  That was the seed of worry that wouldn’t go away.

Then, last week, my son called to say the kitten wasn’t well and seemed to have some sort of infection.  The vet gave antibiotics, but was concerned enough to do a blood test.  Each day my son would phone me, saying some new problem had emerged; the cat was losing weight rapidly.  It culminated in an emergency night-time dash to a specialist vet hospital, many miles away, where he was told the infection was a deadly virus that was destroying one organ after another.  My son said goodbye to his kitten – only five months old – and embarked on the long journey home by himself.

While the brief illness lasted, I’d begged friends to send prayers, healing and positive, healthy thoughts to my son’s pet.  I’d tried so hard myself.  I worked and worked to visualise the cat healthy, the cat fully grown, the cat alive, but the pictures wouldn’t come.  All I could see was the little kitten, skinny and with huge, wide eyes.  I believe, one hundred percent, that we can affect the future.  It isn’t set in stone.  There are myriad possible outcomes for every situation.  With sufficient focus, we can nudge towards a better-feeling future.  So why, having managed similar things so many times in the past, could I, and all those working with us, not encourage this little creature to live?  Is it that some ‘probable futures’ are just so improbable – like the cat growing wings or learning to play cricket – that we can’t move into them, and an adult life for this kitten was one of those?

I asked my Guides and was told there had been a ‘contract’ between the man and kitten.  It had come into his life to show him that he is loveable and utterly deserving of love.  I asked why that very happy and beneficial set-up couldn’t have lasted longer and the short, brutal response was that it had been achieved and the cat’s job was done.  Now, I was assured, my son would be able to recognise and feel and accept the waves of love that would come to him from others in his life.

I’m trying to take comfort from that.  Maybe my boy is, too.  But it still feels so harsh, so cruel.  Now I’m working on visualising a happy, fulfilled and love-fulled life for this very special young man.  Join me.


The Inspiral

Day 95 - English test

Day 95 – English test (Photo credit: LShave)

It’s my anniversary!

I’ve just realised that exactly five years ago, I turned my back on the state education system, where I’d worked for many decades, and walked out into the daylight of a new, uncertain but exciting future.

My last few years as a teacher were very tough.  Trying to balance the increasingly crazy demands of our political masters, trying to do justice to the needs of the wonderful children I taught, trying to achieve the grades expected of us by the education authority and – worst of all – trying to maintain my role within senior management in a system I neither trusted nor believed in, all took their toll.  My stress levels were rising.

In my small amounts of spare time, I did the two things that have always helped me the most: I visualised the  situation I wanted and I wrote.  In fact, I combined the two – and came up with the beginnings of a screenplay for a dramatization about my dream school.

This morning I decided (this being the anniversary) to take it out and have another look.

Maybe the ‘Inspiral’ would work – better than the current system, anyway.  Maybe some of the ideas could be used or adapted.

Feel free to dip into it and let me know what you think …


The Inspiral – screenplay

A modern, stainless steel, salad and sandwich bar interior.  Michael is serving.  It is almost empty.  Hayes enters, selects a smoothie from the chill cabinet, pays and sits at a table.  Almost at once, Lisa comes in from a door at the back of the café.  She heads straight towards Hayes, smiling confidently.

Lisa:             Mr Hayes, yes?

Hayes half stands, smiles and motions her to sit down. He peers at her name badge.

Hayes:          Mrs Dawlish…….Inspirer?

Lisa:            A tough label to live up to, Mr Hayes, but we are all ready for a challenge here. And the name’s Lisa.  Finish your drink, please.  I’ll have one too, and join you.  That way, I can answer any questions you have before we start the tour.

She goes to the counter. 

Lisa:             Orange juice, please, Michael.

Lisa hands over a memory stick. Hayes watches as Michael links it to his computer, taps a key and returns the stick with her drink.  As she returns, Hayes opens his mouth to ask a question.

Lisa:           (laughing) What is the stick for?  As you’ll have noticed, the café shares our building. It was planned that way.  We have a symbiotic relationship – both help the other to get along. 

It’s an ethically run, wholefood, organic business.  It is a commercial concern, but most of their business is evenings and weekends.  They open for breakfast and weekday lunches principally for us, so although they take normal customers, like yourself, they make most of their breakfast money from the Inspiral. 

All staff and pupils have one of these.  (She indicates her stick.)  It links to our account on the café computer.  Most of us pay by direct debit; so do the majority of parents.  So, for example, you might want your child to have breakfast and lunch here each day, and you’d agree a weekly amount with the manager here.  They’d make sure your child was well fed each day.  The stick holds information on allergies or preferences, making it easy for even the smallest kids to have a meal that suits them.

If they qualify for free school meals, the education office pays the bill and the child has a stick, like everyone else, so nobody’s any the wiser!

Hayes:        (nodding) And it helps you, because you don’t have to organise dinners or deal with the money for them.

Lisa:            Exactly!  Also the sticks double as an alarm, so that if a child wandered towards the café exit, they’d be noticed.  We have our own access, over there.

She indicates the stainless steel door she previously came through. At that precise moment, it opens, and a 9 year old girl (Callie) with fair, wispy hair emerges, carefully retrieving her stick from a USB keyhole.

Callie:           Hello, Mr Michael.

She reaches up to hand the stick to Michael.

Michael:       (smiling) Hi, Callie.  How are you this morning?  Your usual?

Callie:           Yes please, and I’m very tired ‘cos my stupid Mum came in at 3 o’clock this morning and woke me up. (Conspiratorially) Drunk again.  She’s such a idiot!

Michael:       Poor old Callie.  You don’t have it easy, do you?

Callie takes her stick, a fruit juice and a granola yogurt.

Callie:          (emphatically) You’re right about that.

She goes to sit down a few tables from Hayes and Lisa, then spots Lisa.

Callie:           Oh, hello, Mrs Dawlish!  I didn’t know you was here.  Sorry I’m late.

Lisa:            (smiling gently) Don’t you worry about that, treasure – not your fault.  Enjoy your breakfast.

Lisa and Hayes finish their drinks in silence, as Callie devours her breakfast eagerly.

Callie:           Mmm, that was yummy!  I’ll go and start now, Mrs Dawlish.

Lisa:             Okay, Callie.  I’ll be in soon.  Have you got your programme for today yet?

Callie:          Miss Alleppo said I have to eat first, then sleep, then she’ll do my programme.

Lisa:             Miss Alleppo is a wise lady.  Sleep well, sweetheart.

The adults watch Callie use her stick to go back through the door at the rear of the building, then Lisa leads Hayes to the front door of the shop.

Lisa:            We could have gone with Callie, but I want you to see the Inspiral from the front entrance.  You’ll love it.

They walk out and along the pavement to the next building.  Rainbow lettering above the door reads ‘Inspiral’.  The doorway is unusual – modern, but with a hint of Arabian Nights about it.

Lisa hands Hayes a memory stick.

Lisa:            Yours is a skeleton stick – it will take you to any room as long as you’re preceded by someone with access.  Callie, you see, will only be able to enter the quiet room at the moment.  When she’s caught up on her sleep, she’ll have today’s programme made up.  All the children have a personalised learning programme.  The stick holds the information and lets them into the right rooms at the right times.  Computers are networked, of course, so staff know which children they are expecting at any time.

They enter the building.  They are at the start of a long corridor which curves gradually to the right and slightly upwards.  It is the beginning of a long spiral which will finally reach the assembly room at the top of the building. Doorways can be seen to the sides.  All doors are closed.  The corridor is softly lit but colourful, with exuberant children’s work on an underwater theme decorating the walls.

Hayes:          It’s very impressive, Mrs Dawlish.  Beautiful!

Callie, clutching a blanket, appears from a room to the left and opens a doorway a little further along the hall.  A fragment of New Age music drifts from the room as the door opens.  There is soft pinkish glow from the room, then Callie goes in and the door hisses shut.

Hayes:          I’d love to see that room…

Lisa:             Later – I promise.  Now – the grand tour!

She indicates the first door, inserts her stick and checks a small screen above the USB lock.

Lisa:             Right, the main meeting room is free.  Come in and see.

The room is brightly decorated with the rainbow colours.  There are wall hangings, paintings by children and posters showing parents reading, playing with or cuddling their children.  Soft chairs, rugs and cushions are scattered around in a rough circle.  On side tables are cups and plates, biscuits, a kettle, candles and phials of essential oils.  There are storage trays for paper and art/ craft materials.

Lisa:            This is where parent support groups, professionals’ meetings, talks from practitioners and so on happen.  We’re quite lucky to find it empty.

Hayes:          So who supports the parents?  Who runs these ‘groups’?

Lisa:            It can be anyone on the staff, really – sometimes pastoral staff work with a group of parents who have asked for help; sometimes a teacher will run a workshop in art or maths or something; sometimes the school nurse or educational psychologist offer to run a group. 

We also have a group of parents who come in once a week to make resources for the school and have a chat together.  It’s good to have a room that’s just for them.  They feel at home here; they can make a coffee or burn aromatherapy oils – it really helps them to feel comfortable with us.

Hayes:          Yes, I suppose so.  I always dread my daughter’s parents’ evenings.   (As they leave the room and Lisa heads for the next door)  Listen, Mrs – Lisa – I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I’m not going to get much of a feel for the Inspiral by walking in and out of rooms.  I want to understand how it works; how it’s different to an ordinary school; how it feels to be a child working here.  Is there any way you could show me that?

Lisa smiles and opens the next door.  They are in a green classroom.  It is a maths lesson.  Two adults are working with groups of children.  The remaining children are engaged in measuring and recording tasks in small groups.  They are drawing shapes, then cutting them out.  One group are building a structure with their shapes.  A few children look up and wave at Lisa, the rest are too engrossed to notice.  There are about 25 children.  There is an obviously wide age range from 6 to 10 but most look about 8 years old.

Lisa:            Pick a child, Mr Hayes – any child!  Ask them to tell you about their experience here.  They’ll be happy to oblige.

Hayes:        (glancing at her uncertainly) They all look so busy.  Er, could I bother that boy? (points at the largest child)

Lisa:            Of course.  Andy, this is Mr Hayes.  He’d like to know how it feels to be part of the Inspiral.  Could you tell him about what you do here?

Andy:        (standing up and approaching confidently) Sure.  Pleased to meet you.

He sits with Hayes at a side table.  Lisa wanders off to see what others are doing.

Andy:           I came here when it opened.  It’s the coolest school I’ve ever been to.  They find you classes where you can do the work and so you get better at things really quickly.  I started in Orange Maths and now I’m in Grass Green!

Hayes:         I’m afraid I don’t know what that means, Andy.  How do they decide which classes you’re in?

Andy:          (voiceover as scene shifts to flashback of the day he started at the school)       Right.  Well, the day I came, Mr Davis talked to my mum and me about what I was like at school before.


Deputy head’s office.  Mr Davis, Andy and his mother sit round a table.  Andy looks angry and is scribbling on a sheet of paper with a red crayon.

Mrs Slater:         …a bit, sort of, insecure really, I think.  Trouble is, he doesn’t ask for help, you see.

Mr Davis:          Okay.  So, Andy, tell me what school is like for you.

Andy:                 (focussing on scribbling, which becomes more agitated)  Crap!

Mrs Slater:        Andy!

Mr Davis:          No, that’s fine, Mrs Slater.  Give me a bit of detail, here, Andy – which bits are okay; which bits are bad?  Try to tell me how you feel about it. (Makes notes as Andy talks)

Andy:                Hate maths – it sucks.  Art and that’s okay.  Don’t mind writing – I’m pretty good at that.  I can do gymnastics but ball games are pathetic (glances up angrily) and people get so wound up about them!  What’s so great about kicking a ball into a stupid net?  I like computers and gaming and that.  Enough detail?

Mr Davis:         That really helps me to get an idea of you as a person.  That was brilliant, Andy – well done for explaining so clearly.

Andy smiles slightly as he draws on the paper.  His drawing is calmer now – doodling thoughtfully.

Mr Davis:          You didn’t mention break times and lunch times.  How do you like them?

Andy:                 I like food! (All laugh)  But the breaks go on a bit; they’re quite boring.

Mrs Slater:        He’s rather a loner, really, Mr Davis.  He doesn’t have any real friends, you see.


Scene returns to Hayes and Andy in classroom

Andy:            I could have died when she said that!  Anyway, next I was sent to a classroom to mess about with some art work, while they sorted out my stick and talked it through with Mum.

Hayes:         Sorted out your stick?

Andy:           Yeah. (Shows his memory stick) This.  It’s not like my old school, where if you were in Year 5, you’d do all your lessons there and you’d do the same stuff as everyone else your age.  They worked out which classes would be best for me in English, maths, science and IT.  Then I got put in with people who needed the same lessons as me.  It doesn’t matter about our age.  Like in here, I’m one of the oldest, but Carla – that girl over there – she’s only 6, but she can do this stuff really well.  Look at her model – it rules!

Hayes:         Doesn’t it bother you, working with little kids?

Andy:           Seemed a bit weird at first, but we don’t think about it now.  It’s just a relief not to be the class thicko.  It’s good in IT, too, because I’m in indigo class for that and we can get on and do really cool stuff, without having to waste time with kids who are, like, ‘what does the mouse do?’ and that.

Hayes:         Yes, I can see the advantages, certainly.  You said you’d moved maths classes. Is that because they got it wrong the first time?

Andy:           Well I always thought I was totally useless at maths.  I really didn’t think I could do, like, anything in it.  But the orange class, the stuff was so simple.  I kind of liked it – being the first one to get it, instead of the last!  But after a few weeks, the teacher said she thought I’d enjoy a bit of a challenge…


Scene changes to a different classroom:  Andy is standing with Miss Bowles

Miss Bowles:   So you have two choices, Andy.  You can move to yellow class, where the work is a little faster and more advanced, but still quite easy for you, or you can go straight to green.  I think you would cope fine there, but I don’t want you to feel freaked out!  It’s your choice.


Scene returns to classroom with Hayes

Hayes:           (Surprised) Seriously?  They gave you the choice of which class you joined?

Andy:            Yeah.  Sweet, isn’t it?  They say it’s me that’s got to do the work, and somewhere there’s a class that suits everyone.  If it’s too hard, I’ll feel stressed out and thick; if it’s too easy, I’d get bored and fed up.  So the trick is to find the class that I enjoy working in.

Hayes:         So what did you do – go to yellow or green?

Andy:           (grins) Well I still didn’t have much confidence, so I went to yellow, but it was a bit boring, to be honest, so after half a term I went to see Mr Davis – you know, my learning tutor – and chatted it through with him.  He was, like, really smiling and said he was very glad my confidence had gone up.  I really love this maths class!  Never thought I’d say that – ever!

Hayes:         Well I’d better let you get back to it!  Thanks, Andy.  It’s been really interesting chatting to you.

Andy:           No problem.  See ya.  (Returns to his table and continues task.)

Lisa, who has been working with some of the children, drifts back to join Hayes.

Lisa:            Shall we move on?

Hayes:         Certainly.  Remarkable boy, that.

Lisa:            (smiles) He’s happy, Mr Hayes – they all are.  That’s the remarkable thing!

Hayes:         Well that little girl – Candy? – She didn’t seem at all happy.

Lisa:            Callie.  We do our best to support parents, Mr Hayes, but to be frank; it can sometimes be them who mess up the children’s lives.  Quite a few of our youngsters are going through parental problems: divorce, separations, addictions, absences for various reasons… and that makes life very tough.

Hayes:         Well I’m sure it does, but sadly, that’s going on everywhere.

Lisa:            Yes, of course.  But we feel it’s unrealistic to expect children going through major life changes to ‘pull themselves together’ and get on with school life as if nothing’s happening.  In schools where they do that, you end up with bullying, violence or disaffection; worse – you end up with children who don’t trust others and start to believe that the whole world is an unreliable place.

Hayes:        (laughs bitterly) Are you trying to tell me it’s not?

Lisa:            I’m trying to tell you it needn’t be.  We’re trying to ‘be the change’.

They walk on together, passing closed classroom doors with glass panels, showing various maths activities taking place. They also pass staff rooms, offices etc.  Hayes has his hands in his pockets and is deep in thought.  Lisa glances at him once and leaves him to think as they walk.  She stops by a door marked STARS.

Lisa:            Are you ready for more yet?

Hayes:         Sorry?  More?

Lisa:            More of what we do.  Or would you rather think a bit longer?  There’s a lot to take in.

Hayes:         No, no.  I’m fine.  I’d like to see some more – maybe meet some more children?

Lisa:             There will be some along soon.  I think you’ll like this.

She opens the door to a small, round room.  Drapes hang from the ceiling, making that, too, seem rounded.  There is a very soft light.  As Lisa flicks a switch, points of coloured light are projected onto the walls and drapes.  The effect is magical.  Soft, vaguely Celtic music begins to play.  Lisa motions towards some floor cushions, but finds a chair from the side when Hayes looks uncomfortable.  He sits uncertainly on the chair.

Hayes:         And what’s the purpose of this?

Lisa:            Well, as I said, children don’t always have a great time at home.  This room is an escape for them, somewhere for them to be at peace for a while.

A soft knock at the door and a woman (Sophie Farmer) puts her head round.

Sophie:        Sorry, Lisa, is it okay for our group to use the room?

Lisa:            Of course.  Mr Hayes would like to watch a session.  Is that okay with you and the children?

(Sophie enters with 5 children of various ages)

Sophie:        Fine with me.  Boys and girls, do you mind if this visitor sits in with us today?

Toby:           Yep.  He can stay, but he’ll have to get down on the floor.

Lucy:           Yes, he will.  Cos if he falls asleep he might fall off that chair!

Callie:          He’s that man who was in the cafe!  You can sit next to me, Mister.

Hayes:         (climbing down rather stiffly) Thank you, Callie.  Did you sleep well?

Callie:          Not really.  So I’ve come to Stars because that’s really relaxin’.

Lisa:            I’ll leave you to it, then.  Toby, would you bring Mr Hayes to my room when Stars is over?

Toby:           Yep.  No problem, Miss.

Lisa smiles.  The children settle themselves onto cushions.  Some sit and others lay down.  Sophie leads a guided meditation.  The children – and eventually Hayes – relax and lay motionless as it develops.

Sophie:        That’s right.  Get good and comfortable.  Take some slow, deep breaths.  Breathe in… and out.  Breathe in… and out.  Breathe in lots of peace and calmness, and breathe out all the fusses and bothers.  Keep breathing now and each time you breathe in, feel yourself filling up with calm.  When you breathe out, let all the tensions and wriggles go.  Settle deep into the cushions…  Feel like you’re melting into them.  Let your eyelids get heavy and close your eyes.  Keep breathing in… and out…

Now imagine you’re sitting or lying in a beautiful palace, made of crystal, with stars shining through the pure crystal walls…

No harm can come to you here.  You’re totally safe…

You’re watching the stars twinkling far above you… They look so beautiful…  As they shine through the crystals, the stars shine in different colours.  You see deep red stars shining low in the sky…  A little higher up, there are lovely bright orange stars glowing like tiny lanterns…  Above them, you notice some little yellow stars; just like miniature suns …  It’s so peaceful and beautiful here…  Now, still higher in the sky are some green stars…  They look so very calm and lovely…  Over them are ice blue stars – cold and clear and bright…  Now imagine looking to almost the highest point in the sky…  here you see the indigo stars – deep purple blue, mysterious stars twinkling up above you…  Then, right at the very top of the sky, you see some violet stars…  Their colour is a red-purple…deep and warm.  Stay quite still and breathe in the beauty of these amazing stars….

Now, when you are ready, imagine yourself choosing your favourite star.  It can be any colour you choose.  Hold it in your mind’s eye, when you have chosen it.  Inside your thoughts, keep linking to your special star.  As you watch it, it moves closer to you.  You can see its colour really clearly now.  It’s getting brighter and brighter.  Breathe in the light from your star.  It’s still getting closer and closer.  You can feel it shining just in front of you… until it flows into you…right through your skin… and the whole of your body is lit up like starlight.  Feel your star colour filling every part of you with beautiful, brilliant light.  You feel it shining out of you.  Let it shine all around you – onto your friends, onto the room and right out to anyone you want to send light to.  This light is so strong, it can reach anyone in the world – even people who have left the world.  Your starlight can travel for millions of miles, and you decide where it flows……..

Now…very gradually…your light grows fainter and paler, until it’s back inside your body.  Feel it there…your own secret starlight.  You can make it grow bigger any time you like.  You can keep it inside you, or send it back into space.  It’s your choice.  Whatever you do, though, this will always be your special star, and you can call it and ask it to grow anytime you like… Sometimes, when you need to feel brave, your star will be there to light you up and make you strong and bright…

…Very gradually now, be aware of the rest of the stars, shining through the walls of the palace.  Remember how calm and peaceful it is here.  Remember this palace is in your mind, so you can come to it any time you like…

Now slowly be aware of your breathing again.  Make your breaths a little deeper… in…and out…in…and out.  Slowly feel your body on the cushions.  Feel your legs and your back… Feel your arms and your body… Lastly feel your neck and your head… and in your own time… open your eyes and sit up.

Well done, everybody.

The children gradually stretch and move, muttering and murmuring cheerfully and

contentedly.  Hayes opens his eyes, looking rather bemused.

Sophie:        Okay everybody?

Children:      Yes, Miss/ fine/ yep/ yawn etc.

Hayes:         Yes, thank you, Miss, um – that was very relaxing.  Remarkable.

Callie:          Told you!  I said it was, didn’t I?

Hayes:         You did, Callie.  You were right.  Um… What happens now?

Toby:           Usually we have a sit around here for a bit and let our bodies and brains come back properly, then we go to break.  I’m gonna take you to Miss Dawlish, though, ‘cos she said to.

Sophie:        Well remembered, Toby.  Your brain’s back already!  Nice to meet you Mr Hayes.

Hayes:         Yes, you too.  Thank you again.  Right, young Toby – lead the way!

Toby:          (unlocking the door) Yep.  This way, Mr Hay.

They walk down the corridor together.

Hayes:         That was great, wasn’t it?  Are the words always the same?

Toby:           Oh no.  They’re never the same.  Sometimes we get fireworks, or waterfalls or we go through the woods into our own special garden – that’s one of my best ones!  It’s called Stars, but we don’t always do about stars.  She might’ve did that ‘cos you were new. (Pause)  She did that bit about reaching people who’d left the earth for me, you know, special!  That’s ‘cos me mum went to Heaven, so she did that bit special for me.  I liked that.

Hayes:         Well my Mum’s in Heaven, too, Toby.  So I especially liked that bit as well.

Toby:           Is she?  Whoa.  I wonder if she knew.  She’s dead clever, that Miss Farmer.  This is Miss Dawlish’s room. (knocks)

Lisa:            (opening door and smiling) Ah – well done, Toby.

Toby:           ‘Ere he is, Miss.  You know what?  His Mum’s in Heaven with mine!

Lisa:            (glances quickly at Hayes and smiles) How lovely, Toby.  Perhaps they’re friends.

Toby:           Yep.  I s’pect so.  Cheers, Miss.  Cheers, Mr Hay. (He leaves.)

Lisa:            Was that all right for you, Mr Hayes.  I hope Toby wasn’t making you feel uncomfortable.

Hayes:         Oh, not at all.  He told me about his mother, and, it just seemed appropriate to tell him about mine.  He’s so – at ease with it, somehow.  Remarkable.

Lisa:            He is now, yes.  He can be rather direct, though.  Some people find that rather hard to cope with.  Death is not a taboo, here, you see.  But in some places, it still is.

Hayes:         Very true.  A good thing.  (Quietly) Nothing worse than feeling you can never talk about a thing like that.

Lisa:            I know.  It was making that discovery, years ago, that made me determined that death would always be discussed openly in my classes – and now, my school.

Hayes:         So you teach the Christian version, do you? Going to Heaven and so on?

Lisa:            No.  We respect the family’s views and beliefs.  If they tell us someone’s gone to Heaven, or become an angel or whatever, we accept that.  The only time I question is when a child seems very unhappy at being told that there’s nothing after death.  Then I ask if they really believe that.  They usually can’t bear to – it’s just too sad.  I always ask them what they think happens.  You get some really beautiful answers to that question.

Hayes:         Yes, I’m sure you do.

Lisa:            Anyway, let’s get on.  I thought you would like to see how the children’s programmes are planned.

Hayes:         I would.  That lad in the maths class was explaining it to me, but I found it rather confusing.

Lisa:            Of course.  Well in a traditional school, children are usually grouped by age.  Some schools stream the year groups for certain lessons, but there is, obviously, a wide ability spread, which can lead to boredom for the ablest children and distress, or even disaffection for the least able.

Hayes:         But surely a good teacher can differentiate?

Lisa:            Well of course, and they do.  However there will always be children getting the thin end of the wedge.  Oh, those schools are crawling with advisory teachers admonishing staff to pay attention to special needs, gifted and talented, boy readers, girl mathematicians, those just below the average – you name it, they want a focus on it.  Even the most brilliant teacher can’t focus on every child every second.  Add to that the feelings of the kids who believe they’re not getting enough attention or help or being stretched enough, and life is difficult for everyone.  We think our system works better.  It’s as simple as that.

Hayes:         Okay – explain your system.

As Lisa speaks, there is footage of the classes and systems she is describing.


Lisa:            At present, the school has children aged from 6 to 11.  Most have been sent here by the local authority because they were ‘difficult to place’ in traditional settings.  The main problems are behaviour and social or emotional difficulties.

Word is getting around now, though, and many parents are asking for places here.  I think the amazing building sways quite a few of them!

In the mornings, every class is running maths or literacy – English – at the same time.  We plan very carefully, so that broadly the same topics are being covered, but in a range of levels, from very basic to advanced – curriculum levels W to 5.  If the school was working on ‘time’ one week, the level W class would be counting round a clock and learning to recognise o’clocks; the level 5 class would be solving complicated travel problems using bus and train timetables, or calculating flight times to different time zones.  We keep to the same topics so that if a child moves classes during the year – and they often do – they will still cover the same subject areas.

The class the children attend depends partly on their ability and partly on their perception of their ability.  Remember, many of our kids have emotional problems, which usually means their self-esteem is very low.  They need to experience success before they can make progress, so we tend to start them in an unchallenging setting and let them realise they could cope with more.


Scene returns to Lisa’s office.

That’s what happened to Andy – the boy you met this morning.

Hayes:         Yes, that’s right.  He was telling me all about that.  He did seem very proud of himself.  I gathered from what he said that he was rather difficult when he moved here.

Lisa:            Well the last school found him very challenging, but we made him an individualised programme, based on his strengths and needs. (She presses some buttons on the computer and turns the screen towards Hayes.) See – his maths is still low for his age, but he’s working two levels above where he was when he joined us just over a year ago.  He’s in a class at the ‘expected’ (hate that expression!) level for English and above average in IT.  If you look at his afternoons, you can see that we’ve blocked in a fairly intensive pastoral programme for social skills; he isn’t good at mixing with children his age, despite being very good with younger children and adults.  He’s not ready to cope with competitive sports, so he is doing a gym-based fitness programme for PE and we’ve chosen a topic group that plays to his strengths – here (points to screen).

Hayes:         (Reading from screen) Fantasia – creating and filming harmony in colour, pattern, sound and light.

Lisa:            It’s a lovely project – and every child working on it has something positive to offer.  For Andy, it’s the art work and technical wizardry, but there are musicians, quite a few dyslexic kids with wonderful spatial skills, a girl who has the makings of a brilliant director – everything, really.

Hayes:         It all sounds wonderful, but aren’t you pandering to the children, rather?  Shouldn’t they be pushed a bit more – made to confront their difficulties?

Lisa:            Read the papers, Mr Hayes!  Watch the news!  Check the statistics for secondary school truancy, exclusions, street crime, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy!  If you like what you see, keep cramming square pegs into round holes! 

If you hated the sight of blood and were terrified of needles, would you train to be a doctor?  If you were a pacifist, would you join the army?  Of course not!  Yet for decades we’ve been forcing our children into years of doing things they hate, just to watch them fail, or give up, or rebel.

No, Mr Hayes, I’ll let the children decide when they want a challenge.  Make no mistake, they’ll choose them when they’re ready.  We all love a challenge, but we like to decide what it’s going to be.  (Pause.  Apologetic) I’m sorry.  I feel quite passionate about what we do here.  I really believe we’re making a difference to the attitudes these children will grow up with.  Would you like to break for a coffee?

Hayes:         I really admire that passion.  (Hastily) I’m not patronising you.  You’re winning me over, you know.  It takes a while to adjust to having all your assumptions about education turned upside down, but what you say is making sense, and the children are living proof that it seems to work.  Forgive the probing.  I just need to understand.

Lisa:            Thank you, Mr Hayes.  I’m so glad you are taking our ideas seriously.  You see, I’ve had to fight very hard for this.  It’s turned me into a bit of a wild cat, I think!

Hayes:         Hardly that!  The coffee’s a great idea.



My left knee – part 1 of a journey into alternate communication

English: Front side of the left knee.

English: Front side of the left knee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The time has come to tell a very strange story.

The only reason I haven’t shared it widely before is that I was pretty sure most people wouldn’t believe me, but now perhaps you will.  I’ll tell it exactly as it happened and you can decide what you think – or maybe share your own stories, because I’m sure there must be others who have had similar experiences.

About 12 years ago my friend Nina died.  It was cancer.  It was desperately sad – especially so as she had two young children and had just started her own business, doing something she’d always wanted to do, and it had all been going so well.

I was, as far as I can work out, just about the last of the visitors at the hospice who managed to have a lucid conversation with her.  Certainly by the following evening she’d closed her eyes, was apparently unresponsive and a couple of days later she died.

Our conversation was, as you can imagine, very strange.  We chatted about her funeral arrangements the way we’d once have discussed holiday plans.  It was all very low-key and matter-of-fact.  That was how she wanted to play it, and who was I to stir things up?

By now I knew she had no belief in any kind of afterlife, and although she insisted that she would miss her son’s smile and cuddling the dog, she also insisted she’d just go to sleep and cease to be.  I told her I didn’t agree, but she brushed my ideas aside and gave me instructions on how to help her husband out with the kids.

Now the story jumps a few years.

I’d been feeling very tired and low, and – for the first time ever, with great trepidation – I went to see a spiritual healer.  No idea what to expect, but he was kind, friendly and put me at ease.  I laid on his couch and he played quiet, ambient music.  I was supposed to drift off into an altered state while he performed the healing.

That was the idea, but it didn’t work out that way.

Almost as soon as he started, I felt the most agonising pain coursing through my knee. My whole body jerked with the spasm and it took all my willpower to stop myself yelling out.  These jolts of pain – as if I were being gripped by some kind of mechanical vice – continued until he’d finished ‘healing’ me.  The pain only began to subside once he stopped and I could sit up.

The poor man could offer no explanation for what had happened.  He mumbled something about me perhaps having a fear of moving forward on my feminine side, but without much conviction.

I hobbled from the treatment room, but before I’d reached the end of his road, all trace of discomfort had vanished.

Glutton for punishment, perhaps, but I booked another appointment the following week.  Yes, it happened again.  I was fine until the spiritual healing began and fine afterwards, but during the session I writhed and squirmed and was unable to get any relief.

At that point I gave up on spiritual healing for a while. (Although in all fairness, I must add that once the mystery had been solved, I returned to that healer and had some excellent treatment from him.)

My left knee behaved itself perfectly until a few weeks later when I happened to be listening to a radio programme about spiritual mediums.  Slowly at first, the gripping pain started, gradually becoming more insistent and less bearable.  It continued until the programme finished, then stopped completely.


The next day I had time to think things through.  Slowly it dawned on me that on each of the three occasions, there had been a connection to things spiritual and ‘beyond the veil’.  As if in answer to my thoughts, I felt a light but distinct twinge in the knee.

“Keep going,” it seemed to be saying. “You’re getting there.”

Then I had a truly creepy thought.  Was someone trying to reach me from the other side?

The answering twinge was there again.

I tried to keep calm.  It was fine.  Someone ‘over there’ was mistaking me for some kind of Doris Stokes person because I’d very occasionally taken an interest in things of a spiritual nature.  It was obviously a wrong number.  After all, who did I know who had passed over and would have any reason to contact me?



Once more the squeeze, but gentle this time – almost a playful nudge.

Nina – known to friends and family by the first syllable of her name – was contacting me.

Knee!  Better yet, LEFT knee!!

Marx Brothers, head-and-shoulders portrait, fa...

Marx Brothers, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. Top to bottom: Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Zeppo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh yes, even the sense of humour fitted.  She’d been a great Marx Brothers fan…

Ni might have ‘left’ a few years earlier, but she’d clearly discovered that she was by no means lost in that dreamless sleep she’d been expecting.  Our conversation was far from over – it was just beginning.

I quickly learned how to hold a conversation with her, and discovered why she had been so insistent on contacting me.  That, too, is an amazing story, but it will have to wait for another post.

I’d be fascinated to hear from anyone who has had a similar experience.