As a child with a disability, when it came to schooling, my parents had fewer options than most. During the early years I spent many hours visiting the orthopaedic unit (Joe the porter would always greet me with a tube of Smarties!) and sometimes playing out with my nursery friends just wasn’t possible. Consequently my family would read to me and my love for stories was born.
I was able to read and write well before I started school, and this spark of independence was to prove vital as my school days beckoned. The authorities of the time tried to persuade my parents that I needed particular treatment and that my needs would be best catered for in a specialised environment.
When the day came to visit the school, I was wearing my new coat (with a cape just like Sherlock Holmes) and a red hat. My dad held my hand as we entered the sterile-looking building. It was so clinical, devoid of any personality and so lacking in imagination and creativity, it felt more like a hospital than a place of learning. I’m told that I was not very impressed and kept pulling him away, wanting to leave. Dad told me that I started crying when I saw another girl in a red hat, apparently I screamed that I couldn’t possibly stay here. Maybe I was a little spoilt and precocious, but my Dad knew that this wasn’t the place for me.
He and my Mom fought the system and eventually the local headmaster agreed to let me join his school. Mr Griffiths was a very special man, with a lilting Welsh accent and crazy wiry hair, and he accepted me from the start. My ability to already read and write proved to him that I would fit in and cope with ‘normal’ school. As it happened, I loved it. I thrived academically and socially I mixed with the regular kids from my street. No special treatment was needed, he just allowed me to be a child and to learn alongside my peers. I played ball games and ran around the playground, I was told off by teachers for talking too much, no different to anyone else. Except maybe that I loved reading more than most and loved the library as much as the sweet shop. I had found my place – thanks to my amazing parents and a love of reading.
It could all have been so different, but luckily that red hat was the catalyst. It meant that I grew up being fiercely independent, knowing my own mind and probably being too stubborn for my own good. When I moved to Spain, everyone thought I was being brave, starting a new life in a foreign land. But, it’s simpler than that – I was just dodging the other red hats, not wanting to be stereo-typed and, in essence, just escaping the rat race.
The next challenge will bring me full circle – back to my books, both as a reader and a writer. I’ve outgrown my Sherlock cape, but the magic of mystery stories will never leave me. Maybe the red hat will be my next working title!