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While in my bathroom earlier, there filtered through the open window, the sound of the children playing in the school field at the bottom of our garden. I love those sounds, is there anything more joyful? I am so happy that we now live in a house that backs onto the local junior school and I can listen to the happy shouts and laughter as they enjoy their time of freedom from lessons.

I used to work in an infants and junior school in the next town. I didn’t always enjoy playground duty – not when it was very cold! We had two playgrounds, one at the front and one at the back. At the back was where most of the smaller children played in safety while the other children were in the front, happily ignoring the football that would be flying around dangerously after the sometimes rather vicious administrations of the older boys (and some girls) who were allowed to play football. On being in the front playground while this rather unkempt game was issuing forth, one took one’s life in one’s hands! However, rather strangely, I preferred to be on duty in the front. I’m not really sure why, perhaps I’m a masochist at heart…

Listening to the children at their dinner-time play, I was reminded of how, at one time, that very sound would strike fear to my heart. When I was a child, the sight and sound of children happily running around me would make me shrink back against the wall. Not that I was afraid of the children, oh no, it wasn’t that exactly although I was painfully shy. My fear was that someone would ask me to play with them, to join in on the end of the long string of children who pulled each other round the playground, or who almost knocked you over when they caught you in the game of ‘Tag’. I wasn’t afraid of falling over, it was just that I knew I couldn’t do it – I just could not run. I hadn’t the strength, the breath or the stamina to run anywhere. It took all my efforts to walk a lot of the time. I was undersized for my age (‘a matchstick with the wood scraped off’ was how my dad described me) and the brisk sea winds that were ever-present roughly whisked my breath away almost before I could draw it. So, I hung onto the wall and tried hard not to be noticed. They did try, at first, to get me to play but they soon realised that I wasn’t going to and left me alone. And lonely I was. It wasn’t that they didn’t like me; I just couldn’t play with them in the playground. Outside of school I did have the odd friend who would come and play or I would go to their house.

My childhood was a challenge because of my health; I was grateful to go to a special school when I was twelve and be with other children like me. It gave me the chance of friendships that I’d never really had before. When I got diagnosed with Coeliac Disease at the age of twenty, it solved the mystery but never restored to me the experiences I missed out on growing up. It’s why I became a Teaching Assistant; because I understood what was like to struggle at school. I wasn’t stupid; I’d just missed so much schooling through illness that it was hard to catch up and of course there were no Teaching Assistants in those days. But my job in that school gave me so much more than I gave them – for one thing, I was able to learn again things I’d missed during my own school years – and had much more fun doing it because education is presented in such an interesting way these days.

I loved watching the children play, to see their happy faces, or mopping up unhappy faces when the need arose and, in a strange kind of way, I improved upon the childhood I’d missed out on by looking after those being educated now. The children loved me, especially those who struggled with P.E., because I understood how they felt. I wasn’t a ‘jolly hockey-sticks’ teacher like some of the others. We did things together that they could manage and enjoy rather than compete with the ones who could do it easily. I helped them recover their self-esteem; I wish someone could have done that for me at their age. Eden Hall, that special school, did that for me later on.

Amazing what can go through the mind at a sound filtering in through a window…