Cracked Vessels – Letting in the Light?

Today I’d like to share what I can only haltingly call a vision, and the synchronicities and trains of thought associated with it.

Let me give you some context:  I had been in deep discussion with a couple of friends about my experiences as a teacher.  I’ll diverge into a brief ‘then and now’ to give you a flavour of those times…

Around half a century ago, when I was training to become a teacher, a debate was raging in educational circles.  Should children arriving in full-time education be seen as ‘vessels to be filled’ or ‘candles to be lit’?  A report by Lady Plowden and her committee – the go-to document of the time – concluded the latter, and I embarked enthusiastically on my chosen career as a lighter of small candles.

Today, of course, any such discussion is rotting beneath some long forgotten carpet, where it was swept several decades ago.  I quietly left the educational establishment and set up shop in an alternative teaching and mentoring setting when it became clear that the balance had settled firmly on the side of the empty vessels, to be crammed with as much junk knowledge as was deemed necessary to prevent troublesome teachers and students from having time to encourage or indulge in creativity, imagination and critical thinking.

Somewhere in the middle of all that, when the swing towards the ’empty vessels’ model was firmly in motion but before the quality of independent writing was judged by the number of similes, metaphors and examples of personification a child could cram into each paragraph, or obscure aspects of grammar guaranteed never to enhance or crop up in any aspect of life were stuffed into the minds of ten year olds, I found myself quite unexpectedly teaching in a specialist provision for children with speech and language difficulties.  It was this time of my life I had been considering as I went to bed on Friday night.

I was in that hypnogogic state, poised between waking and dreaming, when the ‘vision’ (what else can I call it?) appeared.  I saw containers – vases, perhaps or maybe orbs or bottles.  Each was cracked in its own individual way. some had a maze of hairline cracks, others a single fault line.  What fascinated me, though, was that through every fissure, a dazzling light was shining.  The light was not visible through the solid parts of the containers, just through the places where the cracks allowed it to appear.

“Remember this!” someone or something was telling me.  “It’s important!  Don’t let the image drift away.”

I lay for some time, trying to commit what I had seen to memory, toying with the idea of turning on the bedside lamp and attempting to write or draw it, but the helpful something in my ear assured me that I’d get more clarity through dreaming about it, so that’s what I did.

By Saturday morning I had an idea of what the vision had been about.  It was, as you may well have guessed, an image stemming from my sad thoughts about the ’empty vessels’ – the hapless children in our education system who day after day are ‘filled’ with largely pointless facts and knowledge, despite the sterling efforts of teachers to sugar the pill.  The cracked vessels represented the youngsters with what are variously called ‘special needs’, ‘additional needs’ or those with otherwise non-standard perception and cognition.

 

My teaching career increasingly nudged me towards a fascination and delight in working with those judged to be on the autistic spectrum or with some form of communication difficulty in the written, spoken or receptive aspects of language.

The instructions passed down to teachers from our leaders were to patch up the cracks in those ‘faulty’ vessels, to enable them to resemble their ‘undamaged’ peers and then to allow the ‘filling’ to continue.  That is what I was paid to do in the Speech and Language Unit – get them as close to normal communication skills as possible and return them to a cheaper, one-size-fits-all mainstream classroom.  Fortunately, as the leaders and inspectors had no specialist knowledge or understanding of such children, I had far more leeway than my mainstream colleagues in the way those children were taught.  

Those leaders didn’t see what I saw.  They didn’t know that small children with no intelligible speech could communicate perfectly well with others via telepathy.  They didn’t discover the deep, amazing and stunning twists and turns of the young autistic mind.  They couldn’t glimpse the creativity of the dyslexic when freed from pen or laptop and allowed free rein in the realms of shape and space.  I’d somehow slipped into a world where heightened senses and awareness way beyond common experience held sway.  Those children discussed out of body experiences, viewing ‘funny lights around people and animals that change with their mood’, remote viewing and the like as if they were everyday events.  For them, they were.

Perhaps those in charge of education didn’t want to be dazzled by the light shining through the cracks in the extraordinary ‘different’ children.

Egg, Cracks, Food, Nature, Blur, Dark

My vision and the dreams and ponderings that followed it left me with a conviction that the light shining in was vital to our world and badly needed to alleviate the darkness.  I was reminded of one of my favourite books: The Crack in the Cosmic Egg by Joseph Chilton Pearce.  Was this light appearing within those cracked vessels heralding a breaking of the eggs that hold in a deeper Gnosis or understanding of Cosmic Laws?  Perhaps each of us is, at some level, a ‘vessel’ – but not an empty one.  Perhaps we all hold within ourselves a brilliant light, but one we have hidden inside a container while we go about our humdrum daily tasks.  Perhaps the youngsters I had met on my journey through education were, in a very real sense, the light-showers or shining ones…

…Or perhaps I was a semi-deranged old woman falling down yet another of my many rabbit holes…

On Saturday night I settled to enjoy my current bedtime book: Gayle Kimball’s The Mysteries of Reality: Dialogues with Visionary Scientists.  I was reading an interview with Bernardo Kastrup PhD about contemporary idealism.  He pointed out that if, as the materialist scientific paradigm suggests, all thought experiences occur within the human brain, any impairment of that brain should result in more limited experiences and thoughts.  However, he explained, the reverse is true.  The body of evidence showing enhanced mental experiences (such as those described above in relation to my students) in those with certain types of brain damage or impairment, due to such events as bullet wounds, hypoxia or chemical impairments, strongly suggests that in such cases the brain’s filter system becomes more porous, disrupting the boundary between the brain and greater levels of consciousness. 

A synchronicity, perhaps?

 

The Art of Magic (and the magic of art)

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Pablo Picasso

Oekaki, Drawing, Children, GraffitiThat from the artist who also claimed that it took him four years to learn to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to learn to paint like a child.  It’s a perspective that interests me.

About thirty years ago I recall a family picnic on the banks of the River Stour on the Essex-Suffolk border.  My 18 month old son (now a professional graphic artist and illustrator) seized his father’s sketchbook and pencil, stared intently at the reeds and bull rushes growing at the water’s edge, then proceeded to draw a series of vertical and near-vertical lines on the paper.  It took him seconds.  His first representational landscape drawing!  The child moved on to other ways of exploring the environment immediately.  It was as if the drawing was some kind of instinctive yet fleeting need to capture the 3D world in just two dimensions.  He didn’t, as his older siblings might have done, compare it to his father’s sketches or seek anyone’s approval or praise.  In fact he was confused by our excitement and delight.

A tiny child will not seek out the ‘right’ colours or consider shapes and ratios.  What they do, though, when you think about it, is pure magic.  They use their crayons to create the significant people and objects around them at that moment in time.  Their art freezes an aspect of the swirl of life and movement and emotion they find themselves in and places it on a flat sheet of paper.   How very different that is from our own self-conscious attempts to draw a representational image.  We are hung up on how realistic it looks, whether our lines are straight or whether the perspective is right.  Most of all, we are worried about how others will judge it.  That, I suspect, is the ‘problem’ Picasso was referring to.

“That’s a lovely picture.  Would you like to tell me about it?” we were taught to say when I was training to be a teacher.  It avoided the problems of, “What a beautiful picture of Mummy!  Oh, I see – it’s a green tractor with lots of mud, is it?  Right.”

Gradually we ‘help’ the child to fit their depictions to the conventions of art in our world.  In medieval times, drawing the mother or self far larger than other people would have been quite acceptable.  The convention was ‘important people are shown larger than less significant people’.  In our modern world the convention is photographic, so a person shown large is closer in physical space to the artist’s viewpoint than those standing further away.

 

Light, Effect, Light Effect, Magic LightAnd what of magic?  I would argue that this, too, is something a small child experiences and responds to in a very natural, comfortable way and trying to regain that instinctive connection to the magic inherent in their lives takes many years, once the child has been trained to put it aside.

We allow – even encourage – small children to fill their lives with magic.  We tell them of Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny and read them stories or show them videos of unicorns and dragons, magicians and heroes with fantastic powers.

At some point, though – perhaps around the same time we start insisting that humans should be drawn with bodies, not just a circular head with legs and arms – we begin to teach them what is ‘real’ and what is ‘pretend’.  What many of us don’t recognise is that this is just as arbitrary and incomplete a world view as the one we are asking them to leave behind.

Magic has a strong similarity to art.  When painting and drawing we encapsulate three dimensions in two.  With magic, we bring multiple dimensions into the three that form what current convention sees as our world.  (Again, I suspect our ancestors would have viewed it quite differently.)

In the children’s story book I’ve just published, I made sure enough magic was embedded within it to at least allow my 8-12 year old audience to keep wondering.  My metaphysician (yes, of course there had to be one!) observes three members of a family who find themselves confronted with a magical ‘coincidence’ as follows:

The lady in the blue dress looked from one to the other of them – the mother, who was slowly shaking her head and muttering, “Extraordinary…”, the boy who was now clutching his cheeks and laughing with amazement and pure delight, and the small child beside her who was still young enough to understand how real magic was and therefore not surprised at all.

I’d love to think that a few children reading The Glassmaker’s Children will recognise the magic my young hero Stellan rediscovers and notice how, by using attention and intention, both he and they can find way of surviving and thriving, despite the setbacks and challenges they encounter.

 

Small note:  I originally set up this blog (back in 2012) to publicise my first book.  Since then it’s be come more of a vehicle for my metaphysical ramblings, and I’d like it to stay that way.  For that reason, I’m placing most of my posts about The Glassmaker’s Children on my Open the Box blog.  This one, for example, explains the particular challenges my two young characters face as they battle to cope with a narcissistic parent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Always End With a Story

Tale, Story, Pirates, Fantasy, TreasureAs a parent and as a teacher, I ended every day with a story.  It felt the right way to finish things off and send my own children off to their dreams or my pupils off to their homes.

As I await the artwork for the cover of my own new story book, I thought I’d share some of my favourite children’s books – the ones that most intrigued and inspired those children I read to.

I grew up reading and adoring the Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons tales.  However by the time I’d reached adulthood, having a major character called Titty was a barrier to reading it aloud to kids!  I did try once to read it to a class – attempting to substitute the name with ‘Tammy’, but it didn’t end well.  56 eyes watching intently and 28 mouths sniggering each time I fluffed it or (worse) forgot…  I gave up.

Lewis Carroll was one of my favourites to read aloud, due to the sheer brilliance, audacity and anarchy of his stories and poems, while Philip Pullman’s range and scope always left me and my listeners gasping for more.

I lost count of the times I read Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom aloud to classes of 10 and 11 year olds and I still can’t read the final chapter without shedding a few tears.

Some of my favourite children’s books fall into the genre of ‘issues’ stories.  I suppose mine does as well.

On more than one occasion I would hand a copy of Jacqueline Wilson’s The Suitcase Kid to some poor child whose parents had separated and decided it suited them best if their offspring spent a week at a time in each home.  The issues affecting step families were also deftly dealt with by Anne Fine in her wonderfully balanced series of short stories published as Step by Wicked Step.  Both these authors have produced a range of carefully crafted stories to fit many of the challenging issues besetting children and I’ve read many of their tales to those in my care.

Ordinary Jack.jpgPerhaps my favourite – if I had to choose one – though, is not an ‘issues’ book series at all but a set of comedy tales called The Bagthorpe Saga by the brilliant Helen Cresswell.

I adored everything this lady wrote, but was surprised and delighted to discover how the series affected my middle child.

‘Ordinary Jack’ is a thoroughly charming but – as the title suggests – very normal boy who has been born into a family of hilariously dysfunctional, but high-achieving oddballs.  He yearns to have many ‘strings to his bow’, like his siblings and parents.

My son was the only one in our family with dyslexia – a way of being that has served him very well in adulthood, in his profession as a data analyst, but one which caused him huge problems as a schoolboy.  Despite our best efforts, he suffered with a lack of self-esteem, so finding Jack in these stories was, for him, like discovering a soulmate.  He longed for his nightly story session and we worked our way through the entire series.

I suppose if there is one thing I could wish for my book – The Glassmaker’s Children – it is that some child somewhere will discover my Stellan and relate to him, his personality or his situation, so that his or her own life is positively affected.

 

 

The Glassmaker’s Children is available on Amazon at this link for the USA

The Glassmaker’s Children

The Glassmaker's Children by [Jan Stone]Yes – apologies.  This blog has been very quiet in the past few months.  There’s a reason for that, which I’m about to share with you.

Life during lockdown was very different, obviously.  One of the most positive and welcome changes during that time was the opportunity to chat via video link with my grandchildren every day.  Their mother works from home, so I agreed to do some home learning with them each weekday morning, to give her some time to herself.

Every ‘lesson’ ended with a story session and we got through a fair few books during that time – Tales of Mystery and Imagination (my favourite picture book ever), The Arabian Nights, The Firework Maker’s Daughter, Stig of the Dump and much more.  The five year old – quite understandably – drifted away unless there were plenty of pictures, but the eight year old sat and soaked in every word, day after day.

When the summer holidays started, lockdown eased and the lessons ceased, I found that my love of children’s literature had been rekindled (unintentional pun there!)

As a parent, teacher and mentor, I’d often been able to find the perfect book to help a child dealing with family or personal issues – low self-esteem, bullying, family splits and so forth.  The book I’d never been able to find was one that explained – in a child-friendly storybook format – why, if we do indeed at some level choose the family we are born into, this child chose the parents or siblings they did.

That’s why I decided to write it.

I hadn’t been prepared for how much it would consume my life – waking and dreaming.  Stellan and Ruby Rose, my main characters, became utterly real to me.  Perhaps, since they’ve now been created, they really live in some other reality.  I’d like to think so.  At any rate, one night, during a particularly vivid dream, Ruby and I headed off on an adventure quite unrelated to the story I was writing.

Often I suddenly ‘knew’ what would happen to them next, without consciously planning it.  I caught myself thinking, “Oh, yes, clever!  That links well to chapter 14,” although the new idea had suddenly appeared unbidden in my mind.  Maybe I was being helped…

I did become rather obsessed.  There was the day the doorbell rang when I was in full creative flow and I found myself answering the door to the courier there in a Welsh accent, since I’d been writing dialogue between characters in a Welsh village at the time!

 

It’s only available on Kindle so far, but I’m hoping to get it into paperback within the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, if you know any 8-12 year olds who might enjoy a story about sorcery, self-discovery, adventure and the magical chemistry that permeates all of our lives, do send them to hunt it out on Amazon Kindle, where the first few chapters are free to read.

 

 

The Curing

I feel safest with stories.  They soothe me.  And the old stories are the best of all.

Today I want to share an old story with you – one that came to me and was most anxious to be shared.  Even the synchronicities that drew this story to me tell a tale in themselves.

I live in England, where currently entire households in which anyone has a fever or a cough must self-isolate for 14 days.  When my grandchild developed both these symptoms, her mother was faced with trying to work from home and care for both children.  I live far away, but decided to have a daily one hour video talk session with the children, giving my daughter a chance to get some uninterrupted work time.  I’m an ex-teacher, so we play maths games, draw, read, write and learn together.  It’s a delightful time for all of us.

I went to my still fairly extensive children’s book collection (who can throw books away?) looking for stories that would interest a 5 year old and her 8 year old brother.  Almost at once my eyes fell upon Hugh Lipton and Niamh Sharkey’s beautiful ‘Tales of Wisdom & Wonder’.  It’s a glorious collection of folk tales from around the world.

On day 1, we read the first story, a delightfully silly tale of a monkey who demonstrates that we should be very careful what we ask for.

Last night I sat down to read the second story – a Cree tale called The Curing Fox – in order to re-familiarise myself with it.

The first sentence told of a little girl who became desperately ill with a high fever, dreadful cough and breathing difficulties.

Ah.  My initial instinct was to put this one aside.  Who knows what fears and nightmares the children are having as Covid-19 spreads through the world?  Then I thought deeper.  Why, of all the stories in my bookcase, had I been led to this one, at this time?  That almost imperceptible tingling that tells me synchronicity is drawing me in had appeared.  I read the story.

Mr Lipton tells it wonderfully, but here is the briefest summary:

The child’s anxious parents summon an ancient wise woman, who listens very carefully to the rattling in the girl’s chest.  She tells the couple that she hears from it that a small, sickly female fox is undertaking an arduous journey through the snow outside.  When the child coughs, the wise woman hears the sound of the fox’s paws breaking through the crust of the frozen snow.  The father offers to track and bring back the fox.  As he journeys, the wise woman is able to track his progress, and that of the starving fox, by observing the little girl’s illness; when she senses that the hunter has stopped for the night and lit a fire, the girl has a high fever.  Finally he catches the fox, cradles her in his arms and takes her back to the village.  The mother is told to feed the fox.  It then curls up and sleeps.  The child, too, falls into a deep sleep.  Eventually, both fox and girl awake at the same moment.  The parents are asked to feed the fox again and then release it.  The little girl watches from the doorway as the fox runs off.  As it disappears, so does her illness.  The wise woman asks them whether the fox cured the girl or she cured the fox.  The mother replies that the woman cured them both.  The old lady just smiles.

I sat and pondered the wisdom of that story.  Half awake and half asleep, I thought my way back into that First Nation culture and bank of knowledge that showed such subtle yet deep and abiding connectedness.  I wondered at the idea that the symptoms of an illness could, with the right level of focus, lead the wise to find and alleviate suffering elsewhere.  I marvelled that, in taking steps to alleviate that suffering, the illness itself would vanish.  Further and further I meditated my way into the meaning this story held for me.  I thought of the symptoms – the fever, the choking cough, the inability to breathe.  Clearly the girl stands for us in our present crisis.

And the fox?  What does she represent?

The words that floated into my heart were, “Think of the World’s cough.”

 

It was from the Cree that this prophecy came:

 

 

I’ve got sunflowers on a cloudy day

Sunflower, Bud, Blossom, Go Up, BloomThey’ve not flowering quite yet, but the buds are forming.  I can see them still – just – if I reach up on tiptoe.  These are strong, sturdy plants, growing by inches every day, almost as I watch them, and they make me feel so PROUD.

Why?

Because the person who gave me the seeds, back on my birthday in the early spring, is one of the people I’ve watched and nurtured since childhood.  There are quite a few of these brilliant, shining young people – my own kids and grandchildren as well as pupils and youngsters I’ve mentored or just been there to listen to, on the right day.

Oh yes, they’ve caused me plenty of headaches along the way.  Sometimes I’ve had to watch patiently (and often very impatiently) as they ventured off into dangerous friendships or relationships, harmful habits and addictions or endured heartbreaking, life-changing challenges.  I’ve tried to get the balance right – deciding when to intervene and when to allow them to make their own choices, when to offer suggestions and guidance and when to keep my mouth firmly shut.  Sometimes I got it wrong; sometimes I got it right.  Sometimes I helped; sometimes I was a confounded nuisance.  What I’m most proud of, though, is that I hung in there, even when the going was really tough.  True, I’d sometimes retire to a safe distance while the fireworks exploded, but I always made it clear to them that I’d be there if they needed someone to talk to, someone to scream at, someone with a shoulder to cry on and that nothing they told me would shock me enough to make me pull away.

I hope my firstborn won’t mind me sharing this.  There were times I despaired of ever reaching her.  She was sharp-tongued, harsh and so materialistic that I often wondered how we could share a blood tie.

I once spoke to a very gifted psychic who said, “Oh, your daughter!  That bond between you!  That closeness and connection is so wonderful.”

I stared in amazement.  “Sorry, no.  I wish it were true, but that’s not the way it is.  I really struggle to connect with her on any level.”

The psychic pondered for a moment.  “No,” she said.  “It’s true.  Maybe further down the time line, but I promise you it will come.  There will be a time when you are so close.  She shares your values.  You have rubbed off on her and you will be so proud to be her mother.”

Many years later, when she became a mother herself, she started to change.  She retrained as a relaxation and massage therapist.  She was a wonderful parent.  Still, though, I could see the ruthless, hard, brittle personality traits and at some level I sensed that something had to give.  There was a storm brewing.

When it finally broke, my daughter’s life splintered and cracked beyond all recognition.  Horrified, I rushed to help.  I was fearful, and not just for her.  I worried that she would vent all her fury and spite on me and I wondered whether I was strong enough to take it, because I loved her so deeply.  She didn’t, though.  Slowly and gently we worked together to rebuild her life, to protect and nurture her children and to move her into a new and unknown future.  The spite and anger dissipated.  I watched in wonder as she worked so courageously through the pain and anguish and was transformed in the process.

Materially, now, she’s far worse off.  She has a very modest home and has to work ridiculously hard to keep even that roof over her children’s heads.  Spiritually and emotionally, though, her growth has been miraculous.  I watch in awe as she reaches out to help others and to improve their lives.

image 0As well as working as a freelance reviewer and a therapist, she has opened her own online shop, selling beautiful resources to promote mindfulness, calm and happiness for children and teens.  I am incredibly proud, so I make no excuse for promoting her new project here.

I’m proud of all of them, these young people whose lives I’ve touched and I’m so happy when they come back to me and show me how their lives have changed and the progress they’ve made.

I’m looking forward to the days when my sunflowers bloom and pour so much beauty and light into my life and I’m grateful to the lovely young person who put them into my life.

 

 

 

Returning to OZ

This post is a continuation from the last one I wrote, so in case you’d like the back story, you’ll find it here.

I’d considered enrolling on a course to find out all about radionics – the mysterious alternative therapy my grandfather OZ had practised, before I was born.  But that would mean waiting until the autumn, and my curiosity had been stirred…

‘Just by chance’ (regular readers of this blog will know I consider all events to be meaningful and never random coincidences!) these thoughts coincided with a particularly nasty flare-up of the IBS that has plagued me on and off for the last ten years.  So why not find myself a radionics practitioner and try it out for myself?

I’ll preface this by saying that I am NOT going to become all evangelical about this treatment.  I’m aware that it has been banned in the United States, will be considered pure rubbish by many and could well not suit others.  All I know is that my grandfather, some 50 years deceased, had seen fit to reach out to me to make me aware of this modality.  No doubt he has many other important things to do in spirit, therefore I’m aware that he must have a very good reason to alert me to its existence and value to me and our family.

I sat with the list of accredited practitioners before me.  As it’s a remote treatment, it didn’t matter where they were geographically, so who to choose?

Pendulum, MetaphysicalPrompted by the website, I dowsed over the list, to find the right person for me.  Sure enough, one name jumped out.  I emailed the lady and, a few days later, we were in contact and working together.

Was she the right choice for me?  Absolutely.  A down-to-earth, plain-speaking, no-nonsense lady with a background in alopathic and psychological healing who turned to radionics because it did what – in her opinion – other treatments didn’t.

She was clearly used to some initial scepticism in her clients.  “I work with the subtle bodies as well as the physical,” she told me.  “Does that mean anything to you?”

I assured her that it did, and I was delighted to hear it.  The more she told me, the more convinced I became that this had been a great choice.  I also kept thinking, ‘OZ knew all this.  He believed in all the things I believe in.’  It made me feel so close to him.

I’ve had four sessions with my practitioner now.  She’s working in subtle ways to fine-tune and help my body to heal.  One one hand she’s telling me she has sent healing to strengthen the connection between my etheric and astral bodies, on the other, she’s telling me to avoid the brand of soya milk I’d been using because she’d dowsed that it contained GM soya which was irritating my intestinal tract.  (I hadn’t told her the brand I used, but when I checked, she was right!  The company had recently reversed their policy of only using non GM products.  I swapped to a still non-GM brand and within two days felt much better.)

I tried to get a dear friend, with some severe mental health challenges to try radionics, but he didn’t feel it was right for him at this point.  My daughter, though, is very eager to see whether it will help her to deal with the PTSD which still causes problems for her, and so it moves on down the family line.

Interestingly, when she and my grandchildren came to stay with me last week, the children both commented – for the first time ever – on OZ’s portrait.
“Who is that man?” asked the 7 year old. “I like him. Sometimes he smiles at me.”
“Yes, he’s nice,” agreed the 4 year old. “He winked at me yesterday.”

Neither of them saw anything strange in that and although when you look at the drawing ‘logically’, his eyes are staring to the right, we only need a slight shift in focus to connect with this ancestor who has stepped in for a while to connect with, and help heal his family.

 

 

 

Musing in Miniature

This isn’t a covert way of publicising my tiny cottage industry.  You’d need to head over to my other blog for that.  It’s just that most of my days at the moment are spent transforming, upcycling and creating tiny objects of various kinds from what most people would regard as junk, and it gives me an absurd amount of joy and satisfaction.

reject purchaseBack in the summer, I picked up this little 12th scale (that’s one inch to one foot) figure from a reject box at a miniatures fair.

Not difficult to see why he was a reject.  He wasn’t, at first sight, the most promising of specimens, with his vacant stare, twisted legs and stringy hair, but I knew his day would come!

In some strange way, discovering the hidden potential in what others consider rejects is what has always given me the greatest pleasure.  I remember the scruffy, fidgety boy I once taught who auditioned for a part in our school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.  I remember my pure delight as the clearest, most beautiful voice drifted across the room.  The head teacher and I glanced at each other and smiled – Joseph!  True, he took up many, many hours of rehearsals – far more than one of the bright young hopefuls who had expected the part would have done.  True, I had to tape the complicated words of Close Every Door to Me to the floor of his prison cell, because he’d never have learnt them, but it worked perfectly and the pleasure of watching that kid revel in his hour or two of fame has stayed with me forever.

It was the same with the shy, quiet, dumpy little girl who produced a beautiful piece of writing.  Before I handed back the class’s work, I read out this one piece and they were all staring round the room, wondering who had written it, mouthing, ‘You?’ to the high fliers and looking puzzled.  That simple act, and then handing the work back to the young author with the words, ‘Superb work – well done’, was enough to raise that child’s self-esteem and status within the class to a ridiculous degree.

upcycled doll by Jan StoneSadly, my little porcelain doll had no esteem for me to raise, but when I decided I wanted to make a replica of one of my idols – Nikola Tesla – he was the one I chose.  I looked beyond his defects to the long face, the high cheekbones, the firm chin and the centre-parted hair.  The face was removed as easily as a spot of nail varnish and painted anew, the hair was cut, styled and recoloured.  A tiny shirt, trousers and jacket were cut out and hand stitched.  The dodgy leg was re-wired and, once dressed, Mr Tesla looked as proud as a small piece of porcelain, foam and wire could hope to.

room box by Jan StoneAnd now, when I look at him sitting calmly in his experimental station, gazing at the coils and equipment I’ve been patiently wrapping in copper wire all week, I feel proud too!

This is what we all do – take something rough and unfinished and inject enough energy into it to allow it to transform it into something so much better.

 

The tale of the parent – without a storybook ending

My body isn’t used to the time change yet.  We gained an extra hour this weekend, moving from British Summertime to Greenwich Mean Time.

That’s why I found myself wide awake early this morning.  That’s when I found myself half-remembering something from dreams and something from imagination, and I decided to try to turn it into a book for my two little grandchildren – a book in which everyone, even a parent, is fallible.

Not many people dare to write such books.  In children’s stories, even an erring parent usually comes right in the end.  He might be a loveable rogue or she may be scatty and disorganised, but these storybook parents – at least in stories for small children – always put the children first, always redeem themselves, always learn from their mistakes.

Sad Child Boy Kid Crying Tears Sadness MooI wish life was like that for real children.  I wish there hadn’t been so many children in my life who had parents consumed by addictions, parents who turned to crime, parents who ran off to enjoy a new, carefree life without the drudgery of parenthood.  I wish two of those children hadn’t been my own grandchildren.

This sounds harsh, I know.  But life for those children IS harsh.
I remember the child who told me, “If my dad had liked me as much as he liked whisky and beer, he might have stopped drinking it when I asked him to, and then he wouldn’t have died.”
I remember the boy who said, “I can’t wait to grow up and get a wife. We’ll have lots of kids and I’ll look after them properly and never put them in danger, because I know how bad that feels.”
I remember the child who whispered, “I think my new teacher really likes me, so I don’t ever want her to find out what my dad did, because if she does, she might think I’m like him, and then she won’t like me anymore.”
I remember the little girl who would come into class with bags under her eyes, telling how Mum had crawled into her bed when she got back from the nightclub and spent ages recounting all her drunken escapades.
I remember the seven-year-old who sat with wide, frightened eyes, saying, “I don’t really like Daddy as much as I did before. I still love him, because he is my father, but I’m quite frightened of him now.”
And then there’s the little boy who told me, firmly, “Mums and dads ALWAYS argue. They all do.  Me and my sister go and hide in one of our special places when they start shouting. We take care of each other.”

So how to do it?  How to let children with far-less-than-perfect parents know they are not alone?  How to empower them to cope with a life where there won’t be a fairy godmother to wave a wand or a Damascene conversion that will make everything wonderful again?

The answer, so my pre-dawn inspirations suggest, lies in Chemistry (or Alchemy, or Magic, depending how you want to describe it).  So the story – if I ever manage to write it – will show the pure and inexhaustible supply of Magic that lies behind and within everyday changes.  It will show how intention can bend and shift those changes in the structure of life and of lives.  The wayward parent may choose not to change, but the lives of those around him will change.  Small children will become wiser, stronger and resilient.  They will grow as the story unfolds and they will gradually move beyond their fears and forge a better destiny because of the painful experiences they’ve endured.

I just hope I’m up to the task.

Old Friends – sat on a park bench like bookends

J and I met in our teens.  We enrolled as student teachers together, we lived just across the corridor in hall, we learned the realities of teaching kids in tough London schools, we partied, we got drunk and we hitchhiked around the country at dead of night.  One of us owned the Bookends album.  We’d listen to this track and feel uncomfortable at the lyrics – How terribly strange to be seventy… 

We passed our exams and got our first teaching posts.  We shared a flat for a while, then I left to get married and move somewhere rural.  She was my bridesmaid.  I had children; she didn’t.  We met up a few times, then just exchanged Christmas and birthday cards and hastily scribbled once-a-year notes about how that year had been.  Hers would tell of exotic holidays on far-flung islands; mine would tell of family budget ones in Devon.

This year, as I wrote her birthday card, I added a note to say I was back in the East for a while.  We were both retired now, and living not too far apart, after all, so might we meet up?

What a crazy idea.  We’d lived a lifetime apart, doing different things.  College was a distant memory.  Would we even recognise each other now?

Yesterday, we met.

Yes, we did recognise each other.  It took a moment to work our way past the portly bodies, the white hair, the sensible shoes and wrinkles, to spot the familiar old friend who shone from behind all that.  Thirty years, we worked out, since we’d last met.  The thirty years of experiences, pains and joys we had gained from life flowed between us.

Not quite seventy, but only a very few years off.  So were we the old people Paul Simon had imagined in his lyrics?  Perhaps – to any twenty-somethings passing by, that was how we’d look.  Those lyrics, though, are a young person’s idea of old age.

We did share a park bench for a while, but not quietly.  We talked of what we’d done, children we’d taught, how we railed against the education system with its focus on exams and fact-learning, fought for the rights of the kids and parents, struggled to open the young minds and encourage free-thinking and creativity.  We spoke of how we’d shared our ideas and experience, mentored young teachers.  We spoke sadly of how the government-controlled education system had finally driven us out, as the job we’d loved and devoted our lives to was subsumed by paper-pushing and statistics.  We’d both taken early retirement and headed off to educate in different, freer ways.  And now, we decided, was a time for pride and reflection, a time for relaxation without clock-watching, but not – oh so definitely not – a time to stop learning and wondering, thinking and discovering.