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Poetry Pleases: The Outing

Joyce Worsfold's unforgettable words will make you realise just how lucky you are.

I saw you yesterday
All six of you
Shambling in, holding hands
Two of you clinging
Like broken saplings.
It took some time to seat you
Around the table,
Steel chairs with vinyl seats
Grabbed at you,
You were so afraid and
leapt up and up
Howling consternation.
Those around tut-tutted,
shook heads
averted eyes.
I practised a smile and you seized on at it
Chortling and pointing
It disappeared.
Six pairs of eyes
Broken mirrors of nonsense.
One of you broke away
Monkey arms flailing
and bayed at your reflection
In stainless-steel fittings.
Neon-lit signs terrified
“Sausage chips and peas”
are devil whips and darkened dreams.
You cover your head and curl
a wounded hedgehog
on a cafeteria floor.

They lift you, one each side
And frog-march to a van
And I see you rocking
back and forth
and all around, teacups.

**

When I saw these youngsters with their helpers in a supermarket cafeteria, I was deeply aware of how much we take for granted. Our ability to fend for ourselves, conversation, shared humour, friendship and health. For many people, however, ordinary things can cause confusion and fear and they are unable to cope independently. For their carers there is a tremendous continuing burden.

People who suffer from mental illness can however, enrich all our lives. So often they demonstrate a simple trust, a childlike innocence and joy in simple things. During many years of teaching I have been privileged to teach several such children when they were placed in mainstream school.

Gareth was such a child. His label was “ a Downes child” but as we grew to know and love him, the label disappeared and he was, quite simply, Gareth. He came to us at the age of three and stayed until he was nine. The first couple of years were difficult, Gareth found it impossible to conform, to sit and listen to a story, to stand and paint or to join in a game. Sand was mixed with water and clay, plasticine ended up in the toilet, toys flew about the room and things were never tidied away. At playtime he would disappear, over a fence, under a hedge, he was always where he shouldn’t be and we had no special help for him at first.

Gradually, he began to settle down, to listen, to learn, to make friends. It is his capacity for friendship that I will always remember. The hand slipped in mine in the playground, the head on my knee as I read a story.

I well remember the day the inspector called. ‘Good morning, Good morning’ he boomed, marching across the classroom with outstretched hand. ‘I’m Mr. Goodman, H.M.I’ Gareth was across the classroom in a flash, the vigorously shaking of the Inspector’s hand withy the words, “How’d ya do, I’m Gareth, nice tie that, nice tie!” as he took the visitor’s tie in his hands and flipped it back and forth. ‘Shame about the hair!’ he chortled indicating the visitor’s shining bald pate.

He brought to our school so much laughter, as he experimented and pontificated to one and all.

When he was six he took part in the nativity play as the inn-keeper. He swept Mary and Joseph into the stable with great enthusiasm, much smiling and waving of hands. Suddenly we were plunged into total darkness. We couldn’t understand it but were relieved when the lights came on again a few minutes later. The culprit was revealed when the staff later watched the video taken by a proud parent. Throughout the performance a little hand kept creeping towards the mains switch, Gareth’s hand, and oh the look of joy on his face when he brought us all back into the light!

However worried we are about the state of the world, we can take pleasure in simple, ordinary things, but sometimes it takes a so-called disabled person to enable us to do so.

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