In this video I give an overview of my childhood years. I was bullied at the very first primary school I went to, and the staff there didn’t have a clue how to help me, which severely affected my confidence at such a young age. But once I was moved to a special school for the visually impaired, I got all the support I needed, enabling me to make friends, do well in my exams, get involved in Christmas plays, go on some great school trips, and much more. So I hope you enjoy hearing about it all. I’ve also written a blog post about growing in confidence during my childhood.
Thanks for watching! 🙂
[Photo shows the hills and mountains in Snowdonia, Wales.]
Hi everybody. It’s that time of year when people are getting their A-Level and GCSE results – and good luck to all of you, I hope you get what you want. So I thought I would briefly look back at how I got on at school.
[Photo shows a group of primary school children, with me squinting in the sunlight.]
The very first primary school I went to was a regular, mainstream school, just down the road from my house. But it didn’t go well. The teachers didn’t know how to help or support or encourage me because of my visual impairment, so I was pretty much left on my own to struggle in class, unable to read the blackboard and generally finding it hard to understand everything.
[Photos shows me as a young child, with a young girl, holding hands in a car park.]
On top of that, I was bullied by some of the older kids, who took advantage of the vulnerable, shy boy that I was. I remember that they placed my hands on stinging nettles, for instance. And they once locked me in a shed at the bottom of the playground, after telling me there was 10p in there. Which, when you’re 5 years old, you fall for incredibly easily.
[Photo shows me as a young child, sitting on my mum’s lap on the grass, reading a book.]
Suffice to say, I was removed from that school very quickly, and my parents found a special school for the visually impaired that I was able to go to. And that was where I stayed for the rest of my school and college life, because they were able to give me all the support I needed. The time I spent there made a huge difference to me – without it, I don’t know if I would be as confident or positive about things as I am today.
[Photos show me as a child in my school uniform. They are 3 of the official photos taken over the years.]
As you’d expect, I started out with no real confidence, after my experiences at my first school. So I was really shy and quiet, especially in classes. For instance, I didn’t like speaking up or putting my hand up to answer questions, in case I was wrong. And I did still get picked on by a few of the older children to begin with. Not because I was visually impaired, because they were in the same boat as me. It was simply because they discovered they could wind me up easily, by calling me names and teasing me.
However, the staff there were extremely kind and helpful, because the school was designed to help children like me. So I was able to concentrate better on classes and learn things properly. And I found it much easier to make friends too, many of which I’m still in touch with today.
[Photos show me as a young child in a garden, balancing on the steps from the patio and then sitting and playing with the cat.]
So I had a great support network around me. If I did ever get upset about something, then it wasn’t long before things were alright again. So it all helped my confidence to grow bit by bit during my time there. It’s not something you can shake off overnight, it is a very gradual thing of course. But it worked out very well for me.
And as the years went on, I actually became good friends with the kids who had been teasing me initially. Partly because I was being more successful than them and earning more privileges – I wasn’t trying to show off, I was just doing the best I could. But I also came to understand and appreciate why those kids behaved differently, as I grew older and wiser, learning more about them and putting things into context. And they learned more about me I’m sure. So when one of them sadly took his own life, I was pleased to be one of a few people representing the school at his funeral. I had a lot of respect for him by then, and he had a bright future ahead of him, it was a great shame.
[Photos show my certificates for Computer Literacy and Information Technology (CLAIT) Stage 1, RSA Text Processing 1 Part 1 (Distinction), and then a picture of me in an Iron Maiden t-shirt and a red wig when I talk about music.]
As for my favourite subjects, I particularly enjoyed things like maths, I.T. and music. I actually did my maths GCSE a year early, that’s how geeky I was. And I learned how to touch type in my computer lessons, which has served me well ever since. And I’ve always enjoyed listening to music, though I did find it really hard to compose something of my own for my GCSE. What I eventually came up with wasn’t anything special, but I made up for it by doing well on the written work anyway.
[Photo shows me as a teenager, sitting in a room with friends. Then there is a photo of me as a young child, in a black costume that encases all my body – except my face, which is fully-visible. There is a red belt-buckle design on the waist, and a red triangle over the heart area of my chest. the hood part that covers my hair has a couple of small ears or horns sticking out of the top.]
And I did enjoy playing music, even if I wasn’t a good composer. I used to play the keyboard a bit, and even got to do so as part of the band for one of our school plays. Indeed, our plays were always fun, and I had important roles in quite a few of them. They were enjoyable because they were different every year, and often had good humour and songs in them.
[Photo shows me as a young scout, wearing my orange and blue neckerchief, my face painted like a tiger. Another photo shows me as a young child using my symbol cane as I walk.]
For instance, one of the songs I vaguely remember – even though I can’t recall the name of the play – was about a pizza shop called Good, King and Wenceslas, which went – “The premises of Good, King and Wenceslas, looked out over Clyst St Stephen, opposite the cafe at the roundabout, selling deep pan pizzas, crisp and even.”
[Photo shows my face, extracted from a black and white group photo.]
Another time, I had to sing the Boar’s Head Carol during a medieval play, as I was carrying the boar’s head into a banquet we were having, and the chorus of that was all in Latin. So that was quite a challenge to learn.
[Footage of our school play called Stateside Express. The stage backdrop is a large painting of an old train travelling through the American desert.]
One of my favourite plays, though, was called Stateside Express, where we got to sing all sorts of fun songs…
[Singing] …hello dolly, well hello dolly, it’s so nice to have you back where you belong…
…the hip hooray and ballyhoo, the lullaby of Broadway…
…we could have been anything that we wanted to be, yes that decision is ours…
…and the devil will drag you under, by the sharp lapel of your checkered coat. Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down you’re rocking the boat…
…three wheels on my wagon, and I’m still rolling along…
…where seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day…
…singing aye aye yippee yippee aye (yeehah!), singing aye aye yippee yippee aye (yeehah!)…
[Piano plays the Can-Can music, audience claps along]
[Singing] …I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in. [Applause]
[Footage of our school play called Dracula Spectacula. The stage backdrop is a large painting of a castle on top of a large hill, surrounded by trees and mountains in the distance.]
[Back to voiceover] And there was another called Dracula Spectacula, which was a musical horror show, with enjoyable songs and plenty of laughs…
[Singing] Look! Read! Gasp! Quiver! He’s waiting for you there…
…drink Lubbly Glublick, till it overflows the rim…
…so let me stay, just the way, just the way he likes me…
…Welcome to my vampire empire, high up on the misty hill…
…Rhesus Negative a-Negative Rock. I mean ooh! I mean yeah! We’re gonna dance the Rhesus Negative Rock! Yeah! [Applause]
[Back to voiceover] It’s not Rocky Horror by any means of course… obviously that’s not suitable for kids. But Rocky Horror is a show I’d love to see live one day – I’m still what they call a ‘virgin’ where that’s concerned.
And talking of first times, the earliest play I remember being in was called Tarfa And The Trolls. And I was the lead character, Grandfather Tarfa.
[Footage of our school play called Tarfa And The Trolls, when I was very young. Our characters wear blue and red outfits. I am singled out as leader by the fact that my hat is a blue dome shape with red edging, while my friends’ hats are red and pointed with blue edging.]
[Young me as Grandfather Tarfa] Well, there is the old story about the Snow King. He’s meant to be very clever and very strong. I recall one or two times when he has helped us in the past.
[Me (as Tarfa) and a couple of other characters are pulled across the hall on a sleigh.]
[Instrumental backing music – I Believe In Father Christmas]
[Children sing on the stage. A couple of characters are pushed into a wooden cage during the first song, by trolls wearing green costumes.]
[Singing] …put him in a cage and lock it, put him in a cage and lock it…
…fetch the dustpan and the broom, got no time to play…
…and the children sing, then we know it’s Christmas Day.
[Footage of the play ends. Photos from the play show me and a friend hiding behind cardboard representations of rocks, and then a photo of my character smiling.]
[Back to voiceover] How I ended up being the lead in that play I don’t know… I guess the teachers gave me the role to help boost my confidence at the time… but I gave it a good shot in any case.
[Photo of me swimming as a child is followed by a collage photo of the many medals I won back then.]
I was quite successful at swimming galas and sports days as well – largely because I was also a member of my local sports club for disabled people, and ended up going to swimming galas all over the country, winning a lot of medals along the way. I could have trained for the national team if I’d really wanted to in the end, but that felt like a step too far at the time. I enjoyed swimming as a hobby, but a sporting career didn’t appeal to me.
[Photo of me as a child swimming with a friend, and then sitting on the bench by the poolside.]
If the Paralympics had been as big then as they are now, and the right support and encouragement had been available, I guess things might have been different, who knows? But I wanted to focus on other things, rather than sacrificing everything for a sporting career. And I don’t regret my decision, it was the right thing for me at the time.
[Photo of me as a child balancing on a single roller skate, then two photos of me being awarded a small trophy and a large shield for my swimming achievements.]
The most unlikely thing I ever competed in, though, was the mock elections we had at school one year, to tie in with the General Election the adults were voting on at the time. I really wasn’t keen on the idea, but somehow a teacher persuaded me to represent the Liberal Democrats. And, even more bizarrely, I won! They did have a good manifesto to be fair, and I chose the best points to highlight in my speech. But I was literally lost for words when I won, only managing to stammer out a “Thank you” instead of a victory speech. I was proud to have won, don’t get me wrong, but I was completely unprepared for it.
[Photos show my GCSE exam certificates for Maths (B), Science (A), English (B – with Speaking and Listening grade A), Music (B), English Literature (C), French (B), Information Studies (C).]
I also did well in my exams, for which we all got extra time because of our disabilities. Double time if I remember correctly, certainly for some exams, and I had large print question papers to make things easier. There were also braille papers for those who needed them.
Also, some people were allowed to have an adult sitting with them, to read the questions and/or write down their answers. The pupil wasn’t allowed any help of course, and the answers had to be their own. The adult was just there to read and write things, nothing more. If the pupil was getting it wrong, the adult couldn’t tell them. It was very strictly enforced.
[Photo shows a few of my friends silhouetted against a sunset sky in France. Then there is footage of the New York skyline filmed from a boat, panning along the skyscrapers until the twin towers of the World Trade Center come into view, then switching to a view of the Statue of Liberty.]
We also had some great school trips in my years there, including camping with the cubs and scouts, a field trip to Snowdonia in Wales, and exchange visits with a school in France. But the best exchange we had was with a school in America. Our trip over there was amazing, but I intend to talk about that in some later videos. I had posted the footage on another channel, but I want to move everything here so it’s in one place and I can talk about it more.
[Photos show my A-Level exam certificates for Maths (B), Economics (C), Information Technology (B), General Studies (B).]
So all in all, I enjoyed my time at school, and it helped me enormously. I came away with many friends, a lot of confidence, good exam results and great memories. I went to a mainstream college to do my A-Levels, but my school had a college section on its campus where I got additional support outside of my college lectures, so that really helped.
[Footage shows me walking on stage and shaking hands at my university graduation ceremony. Then there is my graduation photo, with me holding my certificate and wearing the traditional mortar board on my head.]
I then went on my own to university, picking up a 2:1 degree in Accounting and Finance. It was hard work, with a lot of reading and writing and projects to do as you’d expect, but everyone at the uni was supportive and I got through it all without any problems. And I was able to get a job within 6 months of graduating, which I’ve held down for nearly 12 years now.
[Photos of me as a child – first standing next to a garden pond, then sitting on a sofa wearing a Christmas jumper and holding a gift, and then being hugged by Santa Claus (i.e. my grandad all dressed up) in front of a Christmas tree.]
So I’m happy that things have turned out well, and I’ll always be grateful to my family and friends and all the staff at the school I went to, for helping me become the person I am today. It took a while to build up my confidence over the years, and even today I’m still a little bit shy or nervous occasionally. I think I’ll always be a bit like that. But I don’t have any major problems. I live comfortably, I’ve got a good career and friendships, and I’m able to get out and about by myself and enjoy life. Having a sight problem hasn’t stopped me from doing any of that.
So that’s an overview of my younger years, I hope you enjoyed hearing about them. It was a long time ago, but I’ll always have fond memories of that period of my life. So thank you for watching and listening. Bye!